General Care

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General Care

Post by Admin on Sun Dec 09, 2007 9:59 pm

Normal Parameters

Knowing the normal values for things such as breathing rate and heart rate in your horse can be very useful in identifying stress or disease early. Any changes form these normal values indicate a problem. Below is a list of the relevant factors and their normal values.

Heart rate:

At rest = 28-48 beats per minute
At exercise = up to 200 beats per minute
The heart rate is measured with a stethoscope or by feeling the pulse in the lower leg or jaw and a stopwatch. If at rest the heart or pulse rate is raised this may be a sign that the horse is in pain or stressed.


Breathing (respiratory) rate

At rest = 10-14 breaths minute
Breathing rate can be measured with a stethoscope or watching the sideways expansion of the chest. The rate can often be raised when the horse is stressed or sick.


Body (rectal) temperature

Normal Temperature = 99.5-101.3F or 37.5-38.5 C

The temperature is taken by inserting the thermometer into the anus of the horse and holding against the side of the rectum. Low readings may be taken if the thermometer is inserted into a piece of faeces by accident. It is important to seek advice from your veterinary surgeon if you are inexperienced at this.

Routine Checks

It is advisable that your veterinary surgeon performs an annual health check on your horse. However you, as the owner, can perform regular checks and ensure that any signs of disease are identified early. In most cases routine checks on your horse are second nature and often you will perform them subconsciously every time you tend your horse. However the following is a useful check list (although by no means exhaustive) to make on a regular basis:

  1. Skin and coat
  2. Teeth and eating
  3. Eyes, ears, nose
  4. Legs
  5. Urine and faeces
  6. Sheath, vagina
  7. Appetite and water intake
  8. Behaviour.


If anything appears out of the ordinary then contact you veterinary surgeon who will be able to give you advice.

When to call your Vet

Minimum requirements on when to call a veterinary surgeon

According to the Equine Industry Welfare Guidelines for Horses, Ponies and Donkeys (2nd Edition 2005) a veterinary surgeon should be consulted urgently by the owner or person in charge of the horse is there are any signs of:

  1. Acute abdominal pain or colic
  2. Serious injury involving deep wounds, severe, haemorrhage, suspected bone fractures or damage to the eyes
  3. Evidence of straining for more than 30 minutes by a mare due to foal
  4. Inability to rise or stand
  5. Inability or abnormal reluctance to move
  6. Severe diarrhoea
  7. Prolonged/ abnormal sweating, high temperature, anxiety, restlessness or loss of appetite
  8. Any other signs of acute pain or injury
  9. Respiratory distress



A veterinary surgeon should be consulted within 48 hours of the owner or person in charge becoming aware of the following conditions:

  1. Marked lameness that has not responded to normal first aid treatment
  2. Injury that has not responded to normal first aid treatment
  3. Signs suspicious of Strangles or other infectious disease, nasal discharge, raised temperature, enlarged lymph nodes or cough
  4. Sustained loss of appetite
  5. Persistent weight loss
  6. Skin conditions that have not responded to treatment, including saddle sores and girth galls
  7. Other sub-acute illness or injury.


Of course there are many other reasons why you will want to call your vet for assistance and you should feel free to do so. This list is a minimum indication of the attention that should be available to animals in distress.

Foot Care

Foot care is essential to ensure your horse remains sound and should be as routine as feeding and watering. Proper foot care and reasonable management can help prevent lameness. Most foot care maintenance can be done by you however it is important to contact your veterinary surgeon or farrier if you are unsure.

Below is a diagram showing the main parts of a horses hoof.



Disease organisms concentrate where animals are confined, so cleanliness is important. Horses kept in a stall or small pen should have their feet picked or cleaned daily. Horses at pasture should also have regular hoof inspections and be picked and cleaned out. A fine bristled brush is also useful for cleaning the sole, frog, and hoof wall.


A good protocol to follow is described below:

  • Begin by picking out the heel and use the hoofpick from heel to toe to remove dirt, mud and other debris. It is also important to clean out the cleft between the sole and the frog.
  • Once cleaned check the condition of the hoof in particular the frog.
  • Inspect the shoes to make sure they are in good condition and that there are no missing or loose nails. It is also a good idea to ensure the nails aren't projecting beyond the top of the hoof.


Your veterinary surgeon can advise you on an appropriate hoof conditioner or sealant to apply to the hoof. Also your vet should be contacted if you have any doubts about the health of your horses hoof.

Leg Care

The legs of your horse should be inspected on a day to day basis to ensure potential problems are detected early. This inspection involves running your hands up and down all four legs looking for the following:

  • Heat
  • Swelling
  • Scabs, scratches and cuts
  • Lumps and bumps
  • Bot eggs (forelimb)
  • Anything out of the ordinary
  • If you discover something or are not sure then phone your veterinary surgeon for further advice.


It is also important that your horse is trotted up regularly both on hard and soft ground. This can help to detect any potential lameness problems early and if spotted it is important that you veterinary surgeon is contacted to obtain further advice.

Sheath Washing

Some horse owners feel that it is a good idea to 'wash' a gelding's sheath and penis on a regular basis. The theory is that a gelded horse may not let the penis down out of the sheath as regularly as a stallion may, leading to bacterial overgrowth from poor hygiene. However, this has not been shown to be the case. Although regular cleaning may seem worthwhile in terms of overall hygiene, it can in fact create problems for the horse. A certain amount of "smegma" or discharge from the penis is normal and does not necessarily indicate the need for washing.

Why may sheath washing be a bad idea?

The problem arises from the fact that a horse's penis normally contains a certain amount of commensal bacteria (good bugs) and oils which keep it healthy. Overly frequent washing strips away the oils on the skin whilst the bacteria are removed by antiseptic shampoos. The lack of oils on the skin of the penis means that the skin will become dry and cracked whilst pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria are able to invade not only the skin but also the cracks that are formed.

These infections can be very difficult to treat and can become prolonged. Therefore, if your horse appears to have a healthy penis and sheath, there is almost certainly no need to wash it at all. Some horses can produce large amounts of smegma or may need their sheath cleaned prior to a show and may benefit from occasional flushing with a mild saline solution.

In extreme cases some horses have developed smegma stones that need to be removed manually. In this instance it is best to seek the advice of your veterinary surgeon who can advise on an appropriate washing regime.

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