Looking after your horse's health

Discover some simple ways to look after your horse's health - from his temperature and legs to his teeth and skin, we've got it covered here!

A healthy horse is generally a happy horse, but as he can’t speak to tell us how he feels, we have to know how to spot the signs that he’s feeling under the weather through changes in his behaviour, mood and from a visual look at him.

If your horse is happy and well, he will show signs of good health through his appearance and behaviour

If your horse is happy and well, he will show signs of good health through his appearance and behaviour

How do I know if my horse is healthy?

Whether you’re standing next to your horse in his stable or with him in his field, there are a few easy checks and signs to look out for, to make sure he’s happy inside and out. So next time when you’re with your horse, have a quick look for these obvious tell-tale signs to check that he’s happy and in condition.

Inspect his eyes and nostrils

Looking at your horse's eyes, check that they’re bright, not cloudy and free of any discharge. Similarly, his nose should be clean and have little or only clear discharge.  

Glare at his gums

Peeling back your horse’s gums, they should be a salmon pink colour, any signs that his gums have a yellowish tinge, could suggest issues with his liver.

Listen to your horse's tummy

Listening to your horse gut is something, we often don’t think about, unless there’s a concern about colic. But if you listen to both sides of your horse’s abdomen, you should hear gurgling, fluid-like and the occasional grumble which are all signs of a healthy tummy. 

Condition score your horse

You will probably know seasonally when your horse puts on a few pounds or not, but any radical changes in his body condition score, should be recorded and kept a close eye on. Running your hand over his body, you should just feel his ribs, with a good even coverage, over his quarters and no excess fat on his crest.

Troublesome teeth

Feel for sharp teeth, down the outside of his cheek

Feel for sharp teeth, down the outside of his cheek

Watch your horse as he eats, if he drops his food which is referred to as quidding, or dunks it in his water bucket, this could sound warning bells, that there might be a problem with his teeth. If he has sharp edges these can usually be felt through his cheek, but for a thorough diagnosis of the health of your horse’s teeth ask a vet or equine dental technician to examine them. In reality he should have his teeth checked every six to twelve months.

Healthy skin

Your horse’s coat and skin can tell you a lot about he’s feeling. A shiny, glossy coat with no signs of irritation and rubbing, usually shows that he’s healthy and free from any skin conditions. But his skin also can help tell you if he’s lacking in fluids. If you firmly pinch your horse’s skin on his neck and then releasing it, if it leaves an indented mark for a few seconds, this could suggest he needs to increase his water intake.

Check your horse's legs

Checking horse's leg

Glancing down at your horse's legs, feel all over his legs, checking to make sure they’re free-from bumps, lumps and blemishes. If you spot any signs of heat, swelling or wounds, you’ll need to treat them immediately or if he is seriously injured, seek advice from your vet straight away..



Check his TPR

Here are the temperature, pulse and respiration readings you want to see, to confirm your horse is fighting fit.



The normal temperature for a horse at rest, not having exerted himself during exercise is 37.5 and 38.5 degrees Celsius.


An average horse should display a pulse reading of 32 beats per minute.


Your horse at rest if healthy will take 12 – 15 breaths a minute.

Click to read more about how to take your horse's TPR.

How can I keep my horse healthy?

Health is all about looking after the inside and outside of your horse. There’s no point in bandaging him up and keeping him in a comfy fully bedded stable if he’s not feed the right nutrients, offered a chance to stretch his legs and in a simulating environment with other horses. Here are three areas which will improve your horse’s well-being.


Devise a feeding plan for your horse that matches his fitness levels, condition which meets the demands of the work being asked of him. He should have a balanced diet with all the right nutrients to keep him happy within himself. If confused by all the nutrients and feeds on offer in your local feed store, then speak to a nutritionist.


Horses in turnout field

Your horse like us, need to move around, as otherwise they feel they live a life of captivity and control. This doesn’t mean he needs a full-on fitness regime, it could be simple daily turn-out, lunging or some ridden work. This will not only keep his mind active, but his joints supple.


Trapped in a stable with no company or in a bare paddock, doesn’t say stimulating environment to your horse. To keep him happy in his mind, make sure he has access to see other horses and plenty of ab-lib forage, whether that’s grass, hay or haylage as this will keep him occupied for longer. Adding a few stable toys to his home or turning him out in a paddock with lots to see, will see him happier and ultimately healthier.

When to call the vet

Seeing your horse clearly not himself, can be quite stressful and upsetting, but acting quick and seeking advice could reassure you as well as allowing your horse a quicker recovery should he not be well. Obviously any signs that indicate lameness, colic, pain or serious swellings then pick up the phone and call the vet immediately.

Do you have a veteran horse?

Learn how to keep your veteran horse healthy - click here.




Keep your veteran horse healthy

Keep you veteran horse in good health all year round with this advice designed to help you ensure he stays full of life for longer.

The longer you own your horse, the more they become part of the family especially as we do our best to look after them and give them the best future possible. But as your horse ages and reaches his twenties or even thirties, you need to give him that extra TLC to keep him happy and healthy.

A little extra care and protection, will keep your veteran healthy 

A little extra care and protection, will keep your veteran healthy 

Feeding your veteran horse fibre

As your horse ages his digestive tract become less efficient and his teeth become shorter, smoother or are lost altogether. This means he’ll find it harder to chew hay so to keep his fibre intake up, by offering fibre in an easy to chew form such as short chop feeds or chaff. To also make sure he has all the essential nutrients to keep him in optimum health, provide him with balanced veteran cubes that can be soaked to help with his digestion. To read more about forage http://bit.ly/2ghtB5S

Condition concerns in the older horse

It’s important to watch how his body changes as he ages. Of course his shape will alter as his muscle mass reduces with less exercise, but what you have to be aware of is his weight. To help you see if theres any subtle changes to his shape keep a regularly record of his weight by using a measuring tape and if concerned contact your vet.

Worming your veteran horse

It's important to take worm egg counts and worm your horse regardless of his age

It's important to take worm egg counts and worm your horse regardless of his age

Veteran horses have a reduced resistance to worm infections, so keeping on top of your horse’s worm burden is important. This involves worming for encysted larvae in December or January, and covering or testing for tapeworm in spring and autumn. For the rest of the year use regular worm egg counts and only worm when an active burden is present. This will ensure your horse is worm-free, without overdosing on anthelmintics drugs, when they’re not required.

Equine vaccinations

Just like his teeth, your horse’s immune system starts to weaken as he ages, making it less efficient at fighting off infections. To try to minimise the risk of serious infection it’s important to keep an older horse’s vaccinations up to date, even if he’s not going to be travelling anywhere. Also don’t forget about tetanus as this is in the environment such as soil, meaning infection can occur, even through minor cuts and abrasions when he’s turned out in the field.

Dental checks

Horses as they age can become more prone to dental problems. Loose teeth can shift, causing ulceration in the mouth and may eventually fall out, leaving a gap behind. Diastema (gaps in between the teeth) can become packed with feed and cause painful gum disease. It’s therefore really important that teeth are checked and routine dental care is undertaken regularly to pick these problems up early.

Think about your horse's feet

Even if your horse isn’t still in work it’s important to keep an eye on his hooves and to maintain regular foot trimming to keep his feet in good condition and avoid putting extra strain on joints and tendons which are less elastic when your horse is older. A well cared for foot is also less likely to crack, which reduces the risk of foot abscesses and lameness problems.

Keep your horse's joints supple

Gentle hacking will keep him supple  

Gentle hacking will keep him supple  

To prevent his joints becoming stiff and creaky, exercise is key. It doesn't have to be ridden work, as simple in-hand walking or daily turnout will help. Exercise will also keep his mind active and give him a purpose. To boost his mobility try adding a joint supplement to his daily feed.


Give him an MOT

To confirm he's fit and well or to spot any issues, ask your vet to give your horse a  regular check-up. In some cases, this may include a blood sample to screen for underlying conditions that might not obvious until later.

Learn more about veteran health issues - click here

Got a handy tip for keeping veteran horse's healthy?
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Laminitis trigger factors

In addition to being overweight, there are other possible triggers of laminitis. We list what you should look out for...

- A dietary ‘insult’ that has changed the fermentation in your horse’s hind gut (eg a very large meal of starch)

- Badly shod feet, uneven weight bearing, or repetitive trotting on hard ground. These all affect blood flow to the foot over time. Traumatic causes could be thought of as being similar to persistently hitting your thumb with a hammer, and the resultant blood blister and inflammation; mechanical causes could be thought of as similar to getting pins and needles because
of ill-fitting shoes

- Starch overload, post-colic surgery and liver problems which all cause inflammation in the body. This may result in endotoxaemia, which affects blood flow rapidly, often within 12 to 48 hours – the onset of laminitis is then dramatic and sudden

- Physiological stress caused by being cold or in pain. Latest research suggests laminitis is strongly connected with hormones. If a horse or pony is under stress, his cortisol levels go up, and this rise, over a long period, can cause insulin resistance. This, together with him being ‘comfortably cuddly’ will make him more susceptible to laminitis

Horse passports

horse passport

Not sure about horse passports? Here a re a few handy hints:

  1. A horse may not be transported without his passport – this includes travelling to shows or even a few miles for a hack. Movement ‘on foot’ is fine. Anyone without a passport has three hours to produce it!
  2. Owners of horses without passports face a fine
  3. It’s a legal requirement to return your passport to the Passport Issuing Organisation (PIO) when your horse dies. They may return it, overstamped, for a fee
  4. A passport is not proof of ownership – if you’re buying a horse, make sure you verify ownership yourself and get a receipt
  5. All horses requiring a passport after 1 July 2009 need to have a microchip implanted by a qualified vet. This applies to foals and to adult horses who need a new passport
  6. If you buy a horse you have only 30 days to register yourself as the new owner, or face prosecution
  7. Livery or other yard owners will need to make arrangements with horse owners for passports to be available within the three-hour time limit in the event of an inspection
  8. Your horse's passport also states whether your animal can be used for food at the end of its life. You can declare that your animal isn’t intended for human consumption by filling in the appropriate section of the passport. This can’t be changed later.

For more information visit www.gov.uk/horse-passport/overview

Plaiting made easy

Plaiting using thread gives a neat appearance

Plaiting using thread gives a neat appearance

Show horse producer, rider and trainer Jo Bates shows us how to plait a mane using the good old-fashioned sewing technique.

1 Wet the mane Start by wetting the mane and combing it through. I like to use Quic Braid from Exhibitor Labs, a non-sticky spray that gives extra grip and helps to stop the plaits coming out once secured. Using a dab of gel is also useful for keeping the plaits in place and any stray hairs at bay.

2 Work in sections Separate the mane into sections depending on the number of plaits you’ll need and start plaiting – be sure to pull the plaits as tight as you need to and keep a firm hold.

3 Securely does it With your needle and thread, push the needle through the middle of the plait at the end and wind the thread around. Repeat this process.

4 Tidy the ends To secure the plait, fold the end under and sew around it once more, pulling it tight.

5 Start sewing Fold the end of your plait under and up to the base of the mane, bringing the needle and thread up through the base. Then snake the needle down through the middle of the plait a few times until you reach the end.

6 Size matters Fold the plait under, in half, once more bringing the needle and thread up through the base. Tie the plait off on top of the plait to create a plait with a large base (plait 1) or bring the thread around the plait and secure to create a plait with a small base (plait 2).


Plaiting tips

You can use as many plaits as you like on your horse but traditionally, an ideal number is about 10 to 12. If he’s short in the neck then a greater number of smaller plaits will help to accentuate his neck.

Sewn plaits are neater and stronger than elastic band plaits and have more shape. However, rubber plaiting bands can be used as an acceptable quick and easy alternative and are often used in hunting.

Plaiting will not damage the hair, but be careful when you remove them.




Worm Egg Counts Explained

faecal sample

The strategy of simply worming your horse when faecal worm egg counts reach a certain level may be used with some horses to reduce the use of wormers. However, faecal worm egg count tests do have their limitations. As the name of these tests clearly states, they can only detect the presence of eggs in the horse’s droppings, and are limited to detecting a few roundworm species: small redworm, large redworm and large roundworm.

So even if you get a low egg count reading, your horse may be harbouring a high and potentially fatal number of larvae, which don’t produce eggs. With this approach, you’ll at the very least need to worm your horse in the late autumn/winter against encysted small redworm larvae, and in the spring and autumn against tapeworm.

So the answer isn’t a straightforward decision between worming and faecal worm egg count tests. To ensure the health of your horse, it’s advisable to use the faecal worm egg count tests as an integral part of your worm control programme.

What happens to your sample at the lab?

Once prepared, your horse's sample will be looked at under a microscope

Once prepared, your horse's sample will be looked at under a microscope

When using the Faecal Worm Egg Counts (FWEC) approach requires you, the horse owner, to supply a poo sample from your horse. When your horse's sample arrives at the lab, this is what happens:

STEP 1: First 3g of faecal sample is weighed out and then diluted, with 42ml of saturated salt solution.

STEP 2: Using a pestle and mortar (that’s right people a pestle and mortar!) the sample is ground up with the solution. Emma tells me the solution acts a ‘floatation medium’ - translation: something for the eggs to float to the top of!

STEP 3: Next the solution is sieved using…a tea strainer. This removes all the debris leaving just the liquid and eggs (if there are any).

STEP 4: With a pipette the solution is put into a McMasters Chamber, a small device broken up into counting chambers. These chambers are used as a guide to work out how out the egg count.

STEP 2: Finally the solution can be looked at under a microscope. If eggs can be seen in the chambers they’re counted then multiplied by 50 to get the total egg count. For example if there are eight eggs in the two chambers that gives you a worm count of 400eggs per gram which indicates that the horse needs worming.