This article first appeared in the October 2016 issue of Heels Down Magazine. For stories worth reading, subscribe now.
By Liv Gude
True statement: when you find something weird or wonky on your horse, the longer you wait, the larger the vet bill. Horses prove this to be true, time and time again! So how do you stay ahead of the curve (and bill)? Grab a few things, and start to really memorize your horse.
You will need the following tools:
-Your hands and eyes and also your nose
Most illnesses that cause fevers in horses originate long before your horse decides he doesn’t want to eat or play. Taking your horse’s temperature daily (yes, daily, and yes, under the tail in his rectum) alert you to problems early on. Know what your horse’s normal temperature is for the morning, the evening, and after exercise.
A stethoscope will help you take his pulse by listening to his heartbeat, tucked way up his left elbow. An increased pulse at rest often indicates pain. Also make note of your horse’s pulse after exercise.
Your daily grooming routine is the key to avoiding those giant vet bills. Daily handling, brushing and simple observation of your horse’s quirks and habits are great ways to nip stuff in the bud. If you know what your horse’s legs feel and look like, you will be alerted quickly to weird swellings, heat and other funky stuff right away. There’s a huge list of what you can find on horse legs.
Here are the top warning signs to watch out for:
Splints: This is actually a fracture of the splint bone! If you find the telltale lump on any of his legs, your vet should come out before things get worse.
Any heat or swelling: This may be the result of something as simple as a ding from turnout, or it could indicate something more serious. Either way, the faster your vet can evaluate, the less likely it is to get worse. This is especially true for hooves — heat in the hooves is serious cause for concern.
Nicks, cuts and scrapes: Generally speaking, these boo-boos, which make us wonder what on earth happened, can be totally benign. But any small cut can turn into an infected abscess and some can interfere with a joint depending on location. Perhaps your vet would like to see a photo of your horse’s latest battle wound from himself?
Use your nose: Smell your horse’s hooves, nostrils and mouth. You won’t smell roses, but any infections of teeth or the hooves, like thrush, are first found with your nose. (Side note: If you ever need to avoid talking to someone, start mentioning how you smell your horse’s feet. Instant end to convo.)
As you continue to inspect and groom your horse, you may also find muscle soreness, ticks, hoof cracks, hair loss (did you read last month’s article??) and even a new favorite scratching spot.
Don’t forget to also do a check on your horse’s stall or paddock. Find out if his inputs (hay, feed and water) are normal and good. His inputs need to match his output of manure and urine, and his manure and urine had better be the same as yesterday, last week and last month!
If you do find something new on your horse, you can remedy whatever it is, and this gives your horse a chance to heal faster and feel better quickly. Your horse and your bank account will thank you!