November 10, 2022 5 min read
Whether you’re working with a hardy Thoroughbred or an easy-going pony, you’ve got to pay attention to your horse’s health. You need to be attentive with your horse’s wellbeing at every point in their lives, from riding, to horse training, to your quiet hangouts before sunset. There are a ton of health concerns that can sneak up on them, and if you aren’t familiar with the common signs of ill health in horses, a simple issue might end up getting a lot worse over time.
Many of these health concerns aren’t even diseases, which means you might miss out on some of the symptoms. Knowing what to look out for, as well as what might put your horse’s health at risk, is key to their long-term happiness—and we’re here to help.
In this article, you’ll learn more about these common health-related horse problems, and solutions for each one:
Remember: your vet is one of your horse’s best friends. If you think your horse is showing signs of any of these health issues, consult their doctor.
Horses can have allergies just like we do, and these can result in hives, rashes, colds, and coughing, depending on the type of allergen. Since allergies are caused by their immune systems acting up, there’s no real cure for them. The best you can do is manage their symptoms and minimize your horse’s exposure to allergens.
Some allergens, like pollen, are airborne, which means that you’ll want to keep your horse indoors for longer during the times of year when pollen spreads most actively. If your horse has food allergies, it’s a simple matter of making sure the allergens don’t get into their feed.
Licensed horse veterinarians can do allergy tests for horses to determine which allergens affect them. If you suspect that your horse has one or several allergies, it might be best to schedule them for one of these tests. The sooner you find out what they’re allergic to, the sooner you can make adjustments to make life much easier for them.
Traveling can be very stressful for horses, and could contribute to physical and mental health issues. If your horse needs to be transported on a regular basis, either for shows, competitions, or specialized horse training, you’ll need to invest in a good horse trailer to minimize their stress. In general, you want a vehicle that provides adequate space, that’s well-ventilated, and has great shock absorption to reduce any shaking or sounds that might worry your horse.
It’s also good to keep some hay and water readily available inside the trailer, as these can help calm your horse down. Bringing a second horse along as a travel buddy can also help, since separation anxiety from the herd is a common stressor. Lastly, you’ll want to periodically check inside the trailer to see if your horse has gone to the bathroom; keeping it clean will keep your horse happy and safe from potential diseases.
If you're an equestrian, there's no doubt that your horse might strain themself. It's best to be prepared.
Riding horses are athletes, and every athlete is at risk of getting injured. It’s the price we pay for pushing our bodies for sport. In fact, injuries are more or less inevitable if your horse joins any sort of competition; they can even get hurt during training.
Using properly fitted tack and gel support pads can help prevent injuries, but it’s always best to know what to do in case your horse suffers one. You can check out this list of the most common horse injuries to find out how to avoid them, how to treat them, and what to expect when it comes to horse rehabilitation. For lighter injuries, we’ve also got this list of home remedies for horse injuries that you might want to try in order to speed up your four-legged best friend’s injury recovery.
Arthritis is surprisingly common in horses, and if you don’t catch the early warning signs, your horse might end up having trouble walking for the rest of their life. The most common cause of horse arthritis is regular wear and tear, especially in competition horses like Thoroughbreds. Their high level of physical activity can wear down the protective cartilage in between their joints, causing their bones to painfully grind against each other. This can slow even the fastest horse down, which is why arthritis is one of the more common Thoroughbred concerns that owners should be on the lookout for.
If you notice swelling or heat around your horse’s joints, this could be a sign of arthritis. Other symptoms include stiffness, lameness, and a general dislike for movement, since it’s causing them pain.
While there is no cure for equine arthritis, your horse veterinarian can prescribe anti-inflammatory medication like Equioxx and other treatments to manage the condition and lessen the pain. You can also try to reduce your horse’s body weight so that their joints are supporting less load, coupled with some light exercise to help their muscles support their weight.
Your best bet against arthritis, however, is prevention. Regular hoof maintenance with their farrier can help distribute their weight more evenly across at their major joints, and using high quality horse boots can provide additional support while they’re going on their runs.
Athletic horses are also more prone to ulcers, or sores that form in their stomach lining. These sores can cause a lot of discomfort for your horse, and can lead to serious health conditions if they’re left untreated.
According to research, race horses and other types of sports horses tend to develop ulcers more frequently because strenuous activity—including horse training—causes their systems to produce more stomach acid. Combined with the vigorous shaking their bellies endure while they’re running, this leads to sensitive areas of the stomach to get more acid than they’re used to, resulting in sores.
A horse with ulcers will often show symptoms like poor appetite, refusal to train, weight loss, bloating, irritability, and coat dullness. Those with more serious cases might also grind their teeth from the pain, or lie on their backs to avoid it. If you suspect that your horse has ulcers, consult the vet immediately.
You can help prevent ulcers by making sure your horse has an ample amount of forage available to them throughout the day. This helps fill their stomachs with food that buffers the acid. You can also try lowering the intensity of their training every now and then, since stress can also contribute to ulceration.
Horses frolicking on their backs is a joy to watch but if they do it too long, you may need to check for health concerns.
Colic is the umbrella term for horse stomach aches, and there are a wide variety of causes ranging from mild ones to severe. You’ll need to understand your horse’s body language in order to tell if it’s an urgent matter that needs immediate attention, as well as spot other signs of ill health in horses.
In general, a horse with mild colic will seem dull and distracted, and may lie down from the discomfort. You might also notice that their upper lip is curling—that’s them wincing from the pain. If you notice your horse either rolling around or thrashing about, consider it a medical emergency and get in touch with your vet ASAP.
Either way, a consultation with a horse veterinarian is still necessary to determine the cause of the colic. From there, you can figure out what sort of medication your horse needs, or if the case is drastic enough to require surgery.
Parasitic worms inside your horse’s digestive system can lead to a variety of problems, including weight loss, diarrhea, and lethargy. In order to prevent this, you’ll need to develop a regular deworming routine with your horse’s vet. Don’t try to do this on your own—every horse’s body is different, and your vet will know how to determine what kind of deworming medication and schedule your horse will need in particular.
You can help out by making sure your horse’s food and water is free from parasites. Making sure their feed, hay, and water are always fresh can prevent worms from hiding inside them and laying their eggs. Cleaning out their droppings as soon as you can will also help, since it’s possible for worms to crawl out from there and eventually find their way back into your horse.
If your steed is boarding with other people’s horses, there’s a chance that they could catch something from the others. They could, for example, be exposed to parasites that are in other horses’ systems, or they could catch a number of airborne illnesses.
It’s important that whichever third-party stable you choose to board your horse in has strict health guidelines for anyone who wants to avail of their services. You’re entrusting your horse’s wellbeing not just with them, but by extension with the other horses’ owners. Everybody needs to do their part in making sure that their horses don’t get the others sick.
This is also why it’s important that you get the necessary vaccines for your horse. By protecting them from serious illnesses, you also protect other horses they come into contact with.
Love your elderly horse as much as you did when they were younger. They need your care more now than before.
Vaccines help protect your horse against some of the most fatal horse diseases, but the side effects for some of them are no fun at all. These side effects can range from something as mild as muscle soreness, to more dire ones like anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal reaction that sends them into shock.
This is why it’s important to have your horse vaccines administered by a licensed horse veterinarian, and to keep your horse under observation for some time after receiving their shot. The vet will know whether any side effects fall within safe ranges, or if they have to step in for immediate treatment.
In general, however, vaccines are safe for your horses and are highly recommended. Severe reactions are very rare, and the diseases prevented by these vaccines can be a lot more dangerous than the side effects. Horse vaccines prevent contagious diseases that could spread to other unvaccinated horses and end up killing the whole herd.
Consult a professional veterinarian to learn more about how horse vaccines extend your horse’s life expectancy, and which ones are recommended for your horse.
Your horse’s body will naturally deteriorate with old age, affecting their eyesight, hearing, energy levels, and muscle mass. They’ll also become more prone to age-related conditions like osteoarthritis, heart murmurs, Cushing’s disease, and even cataracts. Injury recovery will slow down, and horse rehabilitation may no longer be as successful as it used to. Nearly every health concern you can expect a human to develop in old age, your horse can get it, too.
You can slow down the effects of aging with proper diet and exercise, but there’s really no fighting Father Time. The best thing you can do is to make sure that your senior horse spends the rest of their years being loved and cared for.
Owning a horse is a life-long commitment, and despite the many health concerns you need to keep an eye on, it’s all completely worth it. Nothing beats the feeling of ripping through the wind on a horse you can call your very own. By taking care of their health, you can keep having that feeling for a very long time. Last but not least, with properly fitted gear, you can make sure your horse stays in top condition, too! Take a look through our collection of saddle pads, horse boots, bandages, and bit accessories that keep your horse safe and comfy.
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