Morgan Murphy

Tracking Your Horse's Health.

Ideally, you know your horse better than anyone else: When he's well and when something is not quite right. Knowing what is normal for your horse will allow you to quickly determine when something is off and it's time to call the vet.

Taking the heart rate and respiratory rate are important indicators for horse health*

To help you understand what to check and look for to evaluate your horse's health.

1)      Capillary Refill Time: 2 seconds

This refers to the color of the gums and how long it takes to return to their normal pink color after being gently pressed with your finger. A healthy horse’s gums will return to normal within 1-2 seconds, featuring a pink shade which indicates the blood flow returning to the capillaries in the gum. If the "CRT" takes longer than 2 seconds, this can indicate a circulation issue.

2)      Mucous Membrane Color: Healthy mucous membranes, (the gums) should be pink and slightly moist to the touch. This is an excellent indication of good horse health.

3)      Heart Rate: A constant, normal heart rate indicates your horse is not under stress. The resting heart rate of a normal horse is around 28-44 beats per minute, (although this is faster in younger horses.) You should take the reading a couple of times to ensure it is accurate. The best place to monitor the heart rate is on the lingual artery under the jaw. First, press your finger on the artery and count the beats in 15 seconds, then multiply this by four to get the beats per minute. Heart rate often increases with fever, shock, pain and illness so a change in the heart rate can indicate a problem with your horse’s circulatory function and overall health.

4)      Respiratory Rate: When a horse is in pain or experiencing fever, its respiratory rate may increase. When the circulatory system and heart are under pressure, the respiration rate can increase in order to get more oxygen to the body (This increase is relative to the horse's normal respiratory rates, whether standing or working. ) You can monitor your horse's respiration by simply observing the abdomen or by using a stethoscope. The average horse's normal respiration rate is between 10 and 24 breaths per minute.

5)      Daily water intake is a critical indicator of good health. A horse should drink around 1 gallon per 100 pounds of bodyweight per day. If you're using an automatic watering system, this may be hard to measure, but, if you give your horse water via bucketing, you should be able to determine your horse's daily liquid intake. Fever and illness can dramatically impact your horse's water consumption, as can the weather. Horses need more water during hot weather and often don't drink enough when it's severely cold.

6)      Skin pinch testing indicates the level of hydration of the horse. If you pinch a flap of skin on the point of the shoulder, it should snap back within one second. The longer the skin takes to snap back, the more dehydrated the horse.

7)      Hoof wall temperature can indicate hoof inflammation. The horse's hoof wall should not feel hot. However, some horses have warmer hooves than others so, it is important to learn what constitutes a normal temperature for your horse, so that you can detect changes.

8)      Digital pulse can also indicate inflammation in the feet, particularly conditions such as laminitis. You can feel for a pulse in the arteries located at back of the fetlock. There will be no palpable pulse in a healthy horse with healthy feet.

9)      Appetite: Your horse should eat around 1.5% -2% of his bodyweight in food each day and should readily eat any food offered. (My horse snickers in anticipation and practically shoves me out of the way when I'm trying to give him his supplements, carrots and A&M!) If you notice your horse is not eating, it is important to check the teeth and mouth first and continue to monitor until normal appetite resumes. A horse needs to eat continuously or his digestive system can develop problems such as colic. In the wild, horses graze 10-18 hours per day on average and in between they're sleeping, playing or drinking.

 *. Image courtesy of Dollar Photo Club

Visit Morgan’s blog regularly: helping you understand how to keep your horse fit, happy and healthy is a number one priority, here at Spalding Labs.