A healthy horse is a happy horse. Packed with dozens of essential health care skills every horse owner should know, this guide will help you keep your animal healthy, save you money, and make your horse operation more self-sufficient. Cherry Hill provides illustrated step-by-step instructions for routine medical maintenance like hoof care, dental exams, and checking vital signs, while also showing you how to deal with an injured horse and the correct techniques for treating wounds, giving injections, wrapping a leg, and preventing infection.
About the Author
Cherry Hill is an internationally known instructor and horse trainer and has written numerous books, including 101 Arena Exercises for Horse & Rider, Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage, How to Think Like a Horse, What Every Horse Should Know, and Horse Care for Kids. Visit her at www.horsekeeping.com, where you can find information on her books, DVDs, and horsekeeping knowledge.
Richard Klimesh cares for five horses on a 70-acre horse facility in Colorado. He is a Certified Master Farrier, who has written hundreds of articles on hoof care and horse facilities. He is the Webmaster of www.horsekeeping.com and the producer of Horsekeeping Videos.
Read an Excerpt
Safe Handling and Housing
Equipment for the Handler
Although safety helmets are usually associated with riding, there are times when you are handling horses from the ground that it is a good idea to wear one. Protect your feet by wearing well-made, sturdy boots. Whenever possible wear gloves, especially when handling ropes. And always use safe horse-handling techniques.
Boots should have heels, good traction, and, if possible, an extra piece of leather sewn across the toe. This toe cap provides extra protection if a horse should step on your foot.
If you are inexperienced or you are working with a young or green horse, it would be to your benefit to wear a protective helmet. When you are working on a horse's legs, the horse could accidentally hit you in the head when he stomps at a fly, or he could move suddenly and knock you into a wall or fence or onto the ground.
Strong Equipment and Leather Gloves
Always use strong, well-made, well-fitted equipment. Leather gloves will give you a better grip on ropes and protect your skin from the pain of a rope burn if the rope ever zings through your hand unexpectedly.
When working on your horse's mane, if you need to get a bird's-eye view, use a steady step stool and place it next to the horse, not in front of him or underneath him. Also, if you have long hair, fasten it securely out of the way and wear a hat to further contain it.
Holding a Horse for the Veterinarian
When you are required to hold a horse for a veterinarian or you are acting as an assistant for a friend, there are certain principles you should keep in mind.
Holding a Horse
When the vet is working on the horse's head, hold the lead rope closer to the halter than normal so you can control the horse's head without the large sweeping motions that would be necessary if you held the horse on a long lead. Always pay attention to the horse's attitude and expression as the vet works; this will give you clues as to the likelihood of a sudden reaction. This handler would be in a safer situation if she were not backed up against the post. If the horse suddenly reared or moved away from the vet and the handler had to back up in a hurry, it could cause her to get pinned or hurt.
A Chain over the Nose
If the horse needs a chain over the nose for complete cooperation and control, have the chain in place from the beginning of the session. If the vet is working on the near side to administer intravenous medication, for example, stand on the off side but with a clear view of the horse's expression and the vet's position.
Especially when the vet is working at the rear of the horse, stay attentive to your horse and keep him steady and straight. Here the horse is held alongside a strong pipe rail that keeps him from moving to the right.
Safely Housing a Horse
Whether your horse is housed in a stall or an outdoor pen, follow safe practices and provide safe eating and water areas.
Follow safe practices at all times. Never leave a horse in a dangerously cluttered area like this. He could easily become hurt or damage your equipment.
If your horse lives in an outdoor pen, provide him with a clean, safe eating area; shelter; and perhaps a sheet or blanket.
Provide a safe, comfortable place for your horse to live. If your horse lives in a stall part of the time, be sure the stall has plenty of air and light; smooth, safe walls; and a safe feeder and waterer.
Cleaning a Stall
The cleaner you keep your horse's stall, the less chance he will have of reinfesting himself with parasites after being dewormed, the fresher the air will be in the barn, and the cleaner he and his blankets will stay.
1. Remove all manure using a specially designed fork that has tines spaced close enough so that the manure does not fall through. These forks are available in plastic and metal. Certain metal-tined silage forks also work well.
2. Locate the spots where the horse has urinated. The wet bedding should be removed using a scoop shovel. Aluminum or plastic shovels are lighter and easier to use than steel ones.
3. Pull all the bedding away from the wet spots so the base material can dry from exposure to air and sunlight.
4. Sprinkle hydrated barn lime or a similar stall floor freshener on the wet spots. This not only neutralizes and decreases the smell of urine, but it also helps the floor dry faster.
5. Sweep any bedding that has been dragged out into the aisle back into the stall.
6. After the stall has dried, cover the area where the horse usually urinates with the clean leftover bedding. Add new bedding to the areas where the horse tends to lie down and eat.
Examining Your Horse
Planning a Daily Check
Each day you should notice certain things about your horse so you can determine his or her state of health. Most of the following observations can be made at feeding time. (See also the upcoming skills: Performing a Leg Check, Taking Vital Signs, Dental Check, and Hoof Check.)
As you approach your horse's stall or pen at feeding time, is he alert and eager to be fed? A good appetite is one of the most important signs of good health.
Take a close look at your horse's expression and the condition of his eyes and nostrils. If you notice any discharge, as shown here, it might indicate your horse has a respiratory illness, such as influenza or rhinopneumonitis. Take your horse's vital signs, especially making note of his temperature, and then call your vet. (See Vital Signs: Temperature, Pulse, and Respiration.)
Keep an eye on your horse's manure because it indicates how his intestines are functioning, if he is drinking enough water, if he is suffering a digestive upset, if his food has been well chewed, and if he has worms.
Each horse will have his own "normal" feces. This is a fairly typical, normal, healthy horse manure pile: well-formed fecal balls with enough moisture so that the pile stays heaped. There is some coarse roughage that has passed through undigested. This is normal if you are feeding grass hay.
This manure pile is loose with very little form to the fecal balls. This indicates that the feed passed through the horse rather quickly. This could be from a sudden change of feed from grass hay to rich alfalfa hay. Or it could be that the horse has eaten a lot of salt and drunk a lot of water. Or it could indicate a mechanical or bacterial irritation in the horse's gut. Some horses get a very loose stool when they are anxious or excited. And some mares have loose manure when they are in heat.
This manure pile might be normal for some horses or it might indicate that this horse is not drinking enough water, since each fecal ball is quite separate and somewhat dry. This occurred during very cold weather when horses typically don't want to drink as much water as they should.
Checking the Skin
One of the best ways to detect skin problems on your horse is to run your hands all over his body. Not only will this feel good to him, but also it will allow you to discover lumps and bumps that you can investigate further. If you are suspicious of external parasites such as ticks or lice, check the mane and tail carefully.
When you've located a trouble spot, investigate further by moving the surrounding hair out of the way. If you find dried blood or serum (the watery portion of the blood that sometimes oozes through the skin), the bump is probably a small wound that can be treated simply by washing with a good antiseptic soap and possibly applying a dab of antibacterial ointment.
Look Beneath the Winter Coat
This skin problem did not feel like a bump or a lump and the winter coat almost covered it completely. It will take some extra effort to check the skin when your horse has a thick winter coat.
A close-up shows that this is not an ordinary abrasion or small nick but a skin problem, often called dermatitis. In general terms, this means a skin irritation. If you see something like this, before you remove valuable clues to the cause by washing or clipping the area, have your veterinarian look at it.
Check the Mane and Tail
If you see a bald patch like this on your horse's tail, it can indicate several causes of tail rubbing (from most likely to least likely):
* The horse's tail is dirty.
* The horse's tail had been shampooed and the shampoo was not rinsed out thoroughly.
* At one time the horse's tail was dirty or not rinsed thoroughly, and the horse developed the habit of tail rubbing and now just rubs out of habit.
* It is spring or fall shedding time, and the horse is rubbing many parts of his body to remove itchy hair.
* The horse has an infestation of lice or ticks.
* The horse's sheath or udder is dirty and since the horse can't reach these parts to scratch, he rubs the tail end.
* The horse has Oxyuris equi (pinworms) and the larvae (maggots) have crawled out of the anus and are causing an itch.
Good hygiene and a good deworming program usually prevent tail rubbing.
The cleaner you keep your horse's buckets, feeders, and grooming tools, the less likely he will be to develop a skin problem or health problem. At least once a week, you should scrub out your horse's eating and drinking receptacles and wash the grooming tools you use on him. You can use regular soap or, if you suspect a problem, an antibacterial soap. Sunlight is also a great purifier, so let the clean items dry in strong sun. Let the bristle brushes rest on their sides as they dry so the wooden bases don't become waterlogged.
Various skin problems require different treatments, but follow these rules whenever you detect skin problems: Keep the horse's brushes, blankets, and tack separate from other horses'. Wash your hands between horses. If you use gloves, keep a separate pair for the horse with the skin problem.
Performing a Leg Check
The condition of your horse's hooves and legs affects his comfort, soundness, and performance. A daily visual examination and careful palpation, particularly after strenuous work, can reveal swelling, heat, pain, or injury. Become familiar with the normal temperature, texture, and sensitivity of your horse's legs so that you can detect when things are abnormal.
Anatomy of the Horse's Lower Limb
1. Establish what is normal for your horse's tendons and joints. With your horse standing comfortably on a level surface with his weight on all four feet, run your fingers down the flexor tendon area of his front legs to assess the temperature of leg tissues. Realize that if your hands are cold, his legs may feel warmer to you than if your hands are warm. Do the same for the hind legs.
2. While you are evaluating your horse's leg temperature this way, you are also getting an idea of what is the normal consistency and texture of your horse's lower limbs. This horse's left front leg normally carries more fluid around the joint and tendons due to an old injury. The right front leg does not carry excess fluid. It is "clean" and tight, which is commonly referred to as having "flat" bone.
Bend the Horse's Leg at the Knee
If you feel you need to examine the tendon without the horse's weight on the limb, bend the horse's leg as shown here.
3. Feel the flexor tendon area for heat, thickness, or tenderness. Because you have previously checked your horse when you knew he was sound and comfortable, you will know what is normal for that horse and now you can compare the temperature of his leg, the amount of fluid in his limb, and his sensitivity to pressure.
4. Pick up the superficial flexor tendon with your fingers and work your way up and down the tendon to identify spots that might be more sensitive. Your horse will react quickly if you make contact with a sensitive area. Often a horse's tendons can be a bit sore after work, just like yours might be if you just ran a mile. In many cases, that would be normal. But persistent or worsening tendon soreness can signal poor conditioning, problems with shoeing or footing, and the possibility of an inflammation of the flexor tendon called bowed tendon, which your veterinarian should treat.
Watch for Nicks and Cuts
If you spot some nicks and cuts in the fetlock or pastern area, as shown here, it probably indicates that your horse is hitting one leg with the other when he moves. This can be caused by having conformation that predisposes a horse to gait defects, being in poor condition, being young and uncoordinated, being shod improperly, slippery footing, or being worked fast or turned very sharply. If your horse tends to hit himself like this, you should determine if any of the above are causes and remedy the problems. You can also use protective boots on your horse during exercise. (See pp. 104–109.)
Wounds from Unknown Causes
A wound like this one that is higher up on the leg could have been caused by interference, but more likely it is one of the many nicks and scrapes a horse's leg receives over the years just from brush, fences, feeders, and unknown causes.
The Coronary Band
When you are examining your horse's legs, be sure to look carefully at the coronary band, the junction of the skin and the hoof. A bruise or wound here can cause a horse to be lame and can affect hoof growth. Note that this horse shows multiple injuries. Besides the new wound on the coronary band, there is evidence of two others that have occurred and grown down. They can be seen as defects in the hoof wall. This horse needs proper conditioning and protective boots until this tendency disappears.
Vital signs are measurements of a horse's body functions and are a good indication of his overall state of health. You should learn how to take your horse's temperature, pulse, respiration, and measure capillary refill time, perform the pinch test, and become adept with a stethoscope for listening to the heart, lungs, and intestines. As with the daily check and leg check, vital signs will be much more meaningful if you first have normal values for each horse. Then, when your horse becomes ill, you can compare his vital signs with his previously established normals.
To establish normals, take the vital signs twice a day for three days and average the readings. Choose various times of day but always when the horse is at rest, not when he has just been working or is excited.
YOU WILL NEED
Be sure to use an animal thermometer that has an eye in one end
Thread a string through the eye of the thermometer.
On the other end of the string, tie a small alligator clip (found in hardware stores) or a spring-type clothespin.
To make the thermometer easier to insert, use lubricating jelly (or petroleum jelly).
TAKING THE TEMPERATURE
1. Check the thermometer to be sure it is reading below 96°F. If it registers a temperature from the previous use, hold it securely at the top and shake it sharply to get the mercury to drop down. Then apply a small amount of lubricating jelly to the business end of the thermometer. The lubricating jelly should be at room temperature, somewhere around 65°F.
2. An assistant should be holding your horse, or your horse can be tied if he is used to having his temperature taken. Move your horse's tail off to one side. This tends to cause less tension in the horse than lifting the tail up. You will be inserting the thermometer into the anus at a slight upward angle, as shown here.
3. Gently ease the thermometer inward and upward until about 2 inches remains outside the anus.
4. Do not insert the thermometer all the way. If you do, it has a greater chance of contacting warm fecal material, which will give you an inaccurate temperature reading.
5. Move the tail back into position. Clip the string onto the horse's tail so that in case the horse defecates suddenly, the thermometer won't drop to the ground and break. The string will suspend it from the tail. After 2 minutes, take a reading. Wash your hands and the thermometer with antibacterial soap.
TAKING A PULSE
You can take your horse's pulse just about anywhere you can hear or feel his heartbeat. Here's how to determine pulse rate by palpation.
Pulse on Maxillary Artery
Choose an artery close to the surface of the skin. Lightly press your fingertips against the artery. Count the beats for 15 seconds and then multiply by 4 to get the rate per minute. The maxillary artery, on the inside of the jawbone, is one of the easiest places to find a strong pulse, even on a quiet, resting horse, such as this one. It's best not to let your thumb rest on the horse when you take a pulse as you might possibly pick up a throbbing from your own heartbeat and get a misreading.
Excerpted from "Horse Health Care"
Copyright © 1997 Cherry Hill.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Safe Handling and Housing
Examining Your Horse
Protecting a Horse from Pests and Parasites
Measuring a Horse
Caring for Wounds and Abrasions
Administering an Intramuscular Injection
Safe and Healthy Techniques for Feeding
Protective Equipment for Your Horse