1/3 of horses have one or more health problems study suggests

Results from the 2017 National Equine Health Survey (NEHS), conducted by Blue Cross in conjunction with the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA), show that more than a third of horses surveyed this year had one or more health problems. 


While the top disease trends of lameness and skin disease remain consistent with previous years, one of the most significant findings is that the results reflect current equine veterinary research; a quarter (26%) of horses with back problems were also showing signs of lameness, which ties in with recent studies conducted at the Animal Health Trust.

 The top five disease syndromes recorded this year were:

1. Skin diseases 31.1% compared to 25.5% in 2016 (17.2% in 2015, 18.3% in 2014, 14.6% in 2013 and 15.2% in 2010-12). Sweet itch and mud fever were the most frequently reported individual syndromes within this category and made up 6.1% of all returns (6.8% in 2016).

2. Lameness (including laminitis) 23.4% compared to 32.9%in 2016, (24.4% in 2015, 21% in 2014, 19.2% in 2013 and 12.9% in 2010-12). Overall, as in previous years, if laminitis is excluded from the analysis, lameness due to problems in the limbs proximal to the foot was more common than problems in the foot.

3. Metabolic diseases 8.1% with PPID (‘Equine Cushing’s disease’) accounting for 73.4% of this figure, consistent with previous NEHS findings.

4. Eye problems 7.6% with ocular discharge (weepy eye) accounting for 54.2% of all ocular syndromes recorded.

5. Gastrointestinal problems 7.5% with gastric ulcers accounting for 39% of this figure and 3% all syndromes recorded (2.7% in 2016).


Of the 5.5% of horses recorded with back problems 26% were also showing signs of lameness.

While the details of the results do not confirm that the two are necessarily connected, these findings reflect the outcome of recent studies conducted by Dr Sue Dyson at the Animal Health Trust.

Dr Sue Dyson, who is Head of Clinical Orthopaedics at the Centre for Equine Studies at the Animal Health Trust, said:

“It is a common observation that horses with lameness stiffen the back as a protective mechanism and develop muscle pain which may be misinterpreted as a primary back problem. 

We have shown objectively that abolition of lameness by diagnostic analgesia results in an immediate increase in range of motion of the back.'

The current data supports this close relationship between lameness and back pain.”

To help keep the nation’s horses in better health Blue Cross has produced nine essential healthcare tips:

  • Ask your vet to conduct a horse health MOT at least annually.
  • Keep your horse’s vaccinations up to date.
  • Have your horse’s teeth checked by your vet or a qualified Equine Dental Technician every 6-12 months.
  • If your horse is shod, make sure your farrier visits every 6-8 weeks.
  • Follow a good worm control programme – ask your vet or SQP for advice.
  • Have your saddle checked regularly by a qualified professional.
  • Make sure you are the right weight for your horse.
  • Be sure that your horse is fit and able to carry out the work you expect him to do.
  • If in any doubt about your horse’s health discuss it with your vet sooner rather than later.