Knowing your horses and making simple daily checks can save lives.
Terry Weyman remembers the morning she pulled back the bedroom curtains to see her mare standing in the pasture beside her house.
“She looked a little tucked up and down in the dumps,” Weyman recalls.
She dressed and checked on her mare, to discover the horse had suffered a rare rectal prolapse.
It was a veterinary emergency. The vet was on the property within 20 minutes and the four-year-old mare made a good recovery.
“Even from 50 metres away I could tell she wasn’t right,” Weyman recalls.
Robin McNulty recalls the day she saw her mare lying down in the paddock.
“She wasn’t rolling or anything. Just resting. Then, 10 minutes later, she was lying somewhere else. I looked back out 12 minutes later, and she had moved again. Something was obviously up.”
McNulty found the mare had come down with colic. Her vet was called and she made a good recovery.
James Innes recalls the sleepless nights he had worrying about the recovery of a dangerously thin rescue stallion.
“I honestly lost sleep, worrying whether I was feeding him enough – or too much.
“In the end it was very simple. I figured if his exhaust products were OK and a good consistency, he must be doing OK. Checking his manure pile became a simple twice-daily ritual. I felt a lot more relaxed once I had nutted it out.”
Weyman, McNulty and Innes were following what is a simple home truth for any horse owner. Knowing your animals, and making simple daily checks, can save equine lives.
It is all about knowing what is normal and what is not.
Horses like routine and simple checks on the animals’ health can be made as part of their exercise or feeding routines.
If they’re on grass, it might be as simple as a few pieces of apple or carrot during a quick daily look-over.
As many horse owners will attest, finding problems early can not only save lives, but reduce vet bills. First up, horse owners need to assess an animal’s general wellbeing.
If you’re moving the break in their pasture, have they come over to enjoy the fresh grass as they normally do? If not, are they footsore or lame? Is it an early sign of laminitis?
If the horse is stabled, has it eaten its normal amount of hard feed or hay?
If the animal receives its water by bucket, has it drunk the usual amount? Any change in the consumption of food and water should be raising flags. Why the change? Colic? A kidney issue?
If the horse is on an unmetered automatic water system, it might be best to switch the horse over to bucketed water if you suspect ill health. That way you can quickly get a handle on how much the horse is drinking – if it is drinking at all.
Naturally, minor variations in water consumption are to be expected. Perhaps the temperature has warmed or cooled, or there is a change to the daily feed which has a different moisture content. Perhaps the animal’s daily workload has changed. That said, any unexplained changes should be investigated. If you suspect dehydration, perform a skin pinch test, or lift the upper lip to see if the gums are normally hydrated. Does the animal look tucked up?
Check the condition of the bedding. Has the animal been pacing in one area, been pawing at it, or are there signs of it rolling excessively? Any signs in the bedding that indicate a change in behaviour need to be investigated.
Stabled horses will have their stalls mucked out daily. Any changes in the quantity or consistency of manure needs to be checked out. Some horse owners actually tally the average daily number of piles, and run a quick check when cleaning up each stall.
If the horse is making soft round balls, all is usually well with the world. If they’re loose, it’s a sure sign of a digestive upset.Diarrhoea is a serious problem, as any horse can quickly dehydrate, with the attendant risk of colic.
Such checks are harder to make with a group of horses at pasture, but it’s good practice to check all the fresher manure piles as you wander across the field.
If one of your horses is running loose, you may be able to work out which one by checking around their tail for residues of runny manure.
If nothing else, it might be a sign to feed out a bit more hay with the spring grass, and reduce rations.
Dietary changes need to be introduced gradually. Some moderate change in the consistency of manure is not uncommon when changes to the feed regime are being introduced, but major changes are a cause for concern.
A horse’s general demeanour is important. Is it approaching for its feed with its ears pricked and a sense of excitement?
A horse that shows little or no interest in its meal should be closely investigated.
Group feeding environments can create their own set of dramas.
Owners need to ensure that the feeding routine is as consistent as possible, even if that means bringing one or more of the horses inside a break to ensure each animal gets its appropriate share.
Left unchecked, dominant horses will always end up with more than their fair share. Feeding routines in which some animals may miss out altogether, and others get twice their ration, are unhealthy and increase the risks of dietary-related problems. Bolting food is never ideal. Some horse owner place rocks, salt licks, or similar objects in feed dishes to slow the animal down.
Always put out more piles of hay than you have horses. The dominant horses will quickly tire of playing the equine equivalent of musical chairs.
If the horses come running or trotting to the feed area on your appearance, take the opportunity to see how they are moving.
For many horse owners, feeding time is a chance to bond and enjoy the company of their equine friends. It is also an invaluable opportunity to have a relaxed look over the animals for cuts, swelling, eye problems, scald, mud rash – any of the myriad curve balls that horses can throw at their owners.
Horses, as all owners know, love routine. Any change to that routine introduced by the horse is a cause for pause. It may be triggered by something as simple as a change in temperature, or workload, or new paddock dynamics if there is a change in the herd, but it could also be the first early signs of something amiss.
Do your best to get to the bottom of it.