Common Health Problems with Horses

Basic Care
Horses are herd animals and needs companionship. If it’s your intention to only get the one horse, you will need to provide the physical contact and mental stimulation that it would normally get from other horses in the herd. Keeping horses is therefore a life changing commitment; it is an animal which needs love and care 365 days a year; it’s not something you can simply decide to do the next day because you do not feel like it or because there is snow outside. If this sounds daunting, or not possible, you should rethink your plans to buy a horse as it is not fair on the horse or yourself if you cannot fully commit. You can however have your horse fully liveried which means the stable yard will do many of the tasks which take the time, and you can simply enjoy being with your horse and riding him.

article-new_ehow_images_a06_qb_ht_build-muscle-horse-800x800Horses need daily exercise. This includes not only riding him or her, but also for allowing the horse enough room roam or run around in a pasture alone. Horses should not be kept in a stall all day unless they are ill and a veterinarian recommends it. You may not want to turn your horse out at peak seasonal times, either because it is too hot or too cold. Before turning out, you will need to make sure that the fences of the pasture are safe and secure. In winter, your horse may need extra warmth such as rugs and blankets, so it is another detail to factor in.

horse-grooming-kitYou will also need to spend approximately 30 minutes a day grooming and cleaning your horse, which will give you time to check his/her general well-being.

Also, by spending a bit of time observing your horse, you can learn more about its personality while the horse remains mentally aware of the fact that you are still the boss. Learning your horses body language and teaching him/her the difference between good and bad behaviour is vital to building a mutually beneficial and happy relationship between you both.

Just like people, horses are all different. Regular health care maintenance on your horse is a must to keep it happy and healthy so when you first purchase a horse, you should first get it checked out by your vet. In addition, your vet will advise you on a couple of feeding related problems which horses sometimes develop and then, at least once a year, your horse should be seen by your vet to get vaccinated and receive routine dental care. But, realize that emergency health care issues may arise from time to time.

There are a ton of possible health problems that can arise with horses, eg joints, hooves, skin, digestive, circulatory, ENT, respiratory or leg disorders Below are some of the more common ones that’s worth keeping an eye out for.

colicColic is a common illness and generally refers to abdominal pain of varying severity. Much of the time colic can be prevented, but not always, and in these cases, veterinary advice should be sought as soon as possible. Colic can be caused by stress so the horse should be kept as calm and relaxed as possible at all times. Exercising straight after food can also bring it on, much like humans getting stitch – but worse and more painful. As soon as it develops, call the vet. Warning signs include odd breathing patterns and excessive sweating.

Hoof Care
The hoof itself is the hard outside covering of the foot. There are no nerves and no blood supply in the actual hoof. Inside the foot, within the hoof are the parts known as the wall, the frog and the sole. The hoof is attached to the bones of the foot from within. Horses support a lot of weight on their feet which are a relatively small surface area so it is vital that a horse is balanced evenly on all four hooves to stop him from becoming injured or lame.

thrushThe hooves must be cleaned with a hoof pick every day. It should form part of the everyday grooming and is the single most important thing you can do for your horse. The hooves should be cleaned both before and after riding. You should make sure you get out all of the dirt and debris lodged in the hoof by flicking the pick forward. Horses kept in stables will need their hooves cleaning every day, but a horse kept out to pasture all of the time will manage with only having his hooves picked periodically.

A bad routine of hoof care can lead to many problems, almost all of which are avoidable if the steps above are always taken. Thrush is probably the most common hoof problem. It is basically an infection of the frog, and similarly, canker is an infection of the whole foot. Both problems cause a foul smell and discharge. The conditions can be brought on by dirty living conditions, so it is a good reason to make sure the horse is mucked out daily.

Like human feet, horse feet can also be prone to corns. Corns can be caused by shoes being left on too long. If left untreated, corns can leads to abscesses which are particularly painful and can lead to lameness in at least one foot. Hooves also need trimming, as they grow constantly, much like human fingernails. They should be trimmed approximately every six to eight weeks but this must always be done by a trained and qualified farrier. In the same way that cutting toenails too short can be painful, so can cutting the hoof too short. Trimming them badly also affects the balance of the horse and if they are uneven, the horse will go lame.

quartercrack4Some horses also need shoeing as part of their hoof and foot care. Not every horse needs shoeing. But horses which are hard workers and those kept on hard, confined stables will need to be shod. Some horses will need shoeing even if they do not fall into these categories, particularly if they have had problems with their feet. It is best to seek the advice of a vet or farrier for this.

Horses can also develop cracks in their hooves. These can be very serious and make the horse’s foot bleed. If you see bleeding, seek a vet’s advice as soon as possible as infection could be likely.

Lameness can be caused if the hooves are not looked after – a disaster for the horse and rider. Horses can also develop laminitis – an inflammation of the inside hoof. This can be caused by obesity so making sure your horse is not gaining weight is one way of preventing this. Laminitis is serious and if left untreated can lead to irreversible damage.

There are many other foot problems but, as with the ones listed, the vast majority are easily avoided by good hoof care and hygiene.


Teeth and Jaws
horse_teeth-793536Teeth grind down herbage to a thick soup so the digestive juices can break down the cellulose in grass.

If the teeth don’t do their job properly the horse will not be able to get any goodness from it’s food and fibrous material may get lodged in the intestines.

To cut properly, incisors must meet their counterparts in the opposite jaw.

chokeAs the name suggests, choke occurs when a horse has bolted its food or not chewed it properly. This results in an obstruction in the throat. To alleviate the risk, always cut succulents into long, thin pieces rather than chunks. Dampen down other food with water.

If the horse does develop choke and the symptoms have not gone within half an hour, you should call a vet.

Horses are susceptible to parasites, especially if they live outside. Most parasites can generally be controlled but owners should do all they can to minimise them. The easiest way to do this is regularly inspect the horse for external parasites and as they can be exposed to intestinal worms from the ground (another reason to remove all droppings from grazing areas), a regular worming programme must be followed every six to eight weeks.

Good grooming will allow you to check for external parasites including lice and flies. If they are not treated as soon as they are spotted, these parasites can lead to worse problems such as colic. So, always pay careful attention when grooming and if the horse is sharing stables with a horse which has lice – treat your animal too to prevent him catching them.

This occurs when the horse continually drops chewed, but not digested lumps of food from its mouth. It should be inspected by a vet if this occurs, as if the horse is not eating its food, dramatic weight loss could well follow.


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