A Comprehensive Guide To Common Horse Illnesses and How to Prevent Them

If you’re planning to become a horse owner, you need to learn the basics in upkeeping a horse—from learning how to check its pulse and temperature to assessing its respiration rate. Mastering these will surely prove to be handy. After all, not everyone lives near a vet.
A Comprehensive Guide To Common Horse Illnesses and How to Prevent Them

From riding rookies to pros, everyone in the industry knows that horses are one of the most emotional animals people interact with. They are naturally smart and sensitive which makes them one of man’s most trusted and cherished four-legged friends. This unique nature, however, extends to its health requirements. Keeping a horse in top shape will require hard work from its owner.

If you’re planning to become a horse owner, you need to learn the basics in upkeeping a horse—from learning how to check its pulse and temperature to assessing its respiration rate—as you may encounter health problems more than once in its lifetime. Mastering these will surely prove to be handy—after all, not everyone lives near a vet.

Basic Horse Care

Everything starts with the basics. To ensure your horse is always in its best shape, you must establish a good environment—from a well-grazed field to a sturdy stable. Spending a good amount of time with your horse will also help you know if its demeanor is “off.” A horse in good condition must be bright and lively, but not to the point that it is restless and excessively moving around.

Since horses are watchful and sensitive animals, they are more prone to stress than others. You must minimize their stress, as it can cause diarrhea, ulcers, bad behavior, and even a weakened immune system. You can maintain their good health by feeding them hay or pasture while providing them with simple exercises to prevent them from getting overweight. A good walk can also help them with their circulation and stimulate a healthy digestive system.

Still, even when you follow all these, there are times when your horse will be down with a disease. Read on to learn more about them and how you can relieve their pain.


Equine Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease, which causes your horse’s cartilage—the slippery tissue that covers the ends of bones where they form a joint—to break down and lose joint fluid. It can leave the joint to lose its ability to cushion impact and provide a smooth gliding surface during motion. This then results in joint pain and leads to lameness in horses.

Symptoms of Arthritis

There are various types of arthritis in horses such as Osteoarthritis, Infectious arthritis, and Traumatic arthritis. These may trouble them with different side effects, and it can go from mild to serious and severe suffering. The most common signs of arthritis include:

  • Stiffness
  • Pain in the back
  • Tenderness of affected limbs
  • Pain, heat, and swelling of joints
  • Reluctance to exercise
  • Lameness
  • Loss of appetite


There is no cure for arthritis, but there is a way to relieve your horse’s pain and increase range of motion. A remedy that works for one might not work for another so it is best to understand the horse well enough so that one can apply the best form of treatment depending on their needs.

  • Trauma Arthritis — To treat traumatic arthritis, give your horse rest and physical therapy. You can also give ice or cold-water treatment while swimming can be used to loosen up the joints. If the pain worsens, you will have to immediately contact your veterinarian as they can prescribe an oral joint supplement for your horse’s pain.
  • Infectious Arthritis — Infectious arthritis must be treated immediately with antibiotics injected into the joint. Your veterinarian may also prescribe an oral joint supplement to reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Osteoarthritis — This is usually treated with physical therapy and a prescription of an oral joint supplement. If your horse’s case is serious, your veterinarian may recommend a surgical fusion.

In addition, a reduction of workload for your horse may be necessary, especially if the work includes extreme activities like jumping, traveling over hard terrain, or ones that potentially over-stresses the joints. Light exercise is important and highly suggested to maintain joint flexibility. At times when your horse appears lame and stiff, you should not ride it.

Gastric Ulcer

Equine gastric ulcers, which happen to be very common, are caused by irritation on the lining of the stomach, resulting in ulceration. It can be painful and affect the appetite, appearance, demeanor, and riding experience of your horse.


Ulcers are usually caused by a variety of factors such as diet and feeding management, intensity and mechanics of training, and even long-term use of medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Its symptoms can vary depending on its severity but the most common signs are in the behavioral changes of your riding partner.

These signs include:

  • Increase in nervousness while riding
  • Tendency toward a more aggressive behavior
  • Loss of appetite which leads to drastic weight loss
  • Poor performance
  • Diarrhea


The most effective remedy for gastric ulcer are supplements that target the disease itself. These can relieve the effect of stomach acids. They can also promote healing and regeneration of the stomach lining.

Rest is also vital for horses that have gastric ulcers because stress can worsen their condition. Increased activity can cause your horse to put more pressure on their stomach, causing acid reflux. If you’re going to settle for a home remedy, you should begin by resting them for a while. Moreover, ensuring your horse has a full stomach can then protect your horse’s stomach lining from the acids that cause the symptoms of an ulcer.


Fortunately, there are ways to prevent your horse from obtaining an ulcer. You may consider maximizing the time your horse spends eating forage or hay. The longer a horse has to wait between meals, the more acid will accumulate in its stomach. You may also want to limit grains in the diet as they increase a horse’s risk of ulcers in several ways. Lastly, medicate with care and provision. Many medications, especially nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can damage the lining of the stomach and increase the risk of ulcers.


Colic is a common disorder of the equine digestive system. Some people simply tag “colic” as “abdominal pain” which can have a variety of causes and treatments.


There are various causes of colic. Instead of focusing on the specific cause, focus on what caused it instead. Colic may be caused by excessive accumulation of gas, obstruction or impaction, intestine strangulation, infarction or poor blood supply to the intestine, inflammatory, or gastric ulcer.

And although there are various forms of equine colic, most horses display some combination of the following symptoms:

  • Pawing at the ground
  • Rolling or wanting to lie down
  • Lack of or infrequent defecation
  • Poor appetite and water intake
  • Excessive sweating
  • Stretching out as if to urinate

Remedy and Prevention

You can deworm your horse regularly, minimize their ingestion of sand by providing a feeder, and feed bran mash or beet pulp to help clear the system of sand. If a horse already had colic, there is a bigger chance that it will obtain the disease again, so best to have its diet adjusted. One of the best preventative measures is by providing them proper food.


Desmitis is an inflammation of the tendon or ligament of a horse, accompanied by disruption of fibers. The most common desmitis is the suspensory ligament desmitis (DSLD).


Many factors can cause Desmitis in horses such as poor posture, shoeing problems, and jumping and racing as these actions put additional strain on the horse’s legs. Other common signs include:

  • Generalized limping
  • Behavior changes
  • Reluctance to stand
  • Poor performance
  • Heat at the site of damage or swelling
  • Inability to put weight on the limb


There are various treatments and remedies for desmitis depending on the severity of your horse’s case. An expert-recommended exercise program is the most common start of the rehabilitation process.  


You can prevent desmitis by strengthening your horse’s ligaments. This may be done by imposing regular straight-line work and regular exercise. You can plan this with your vet so you can establish just the right amount of this work for your horse, as overdoing it can also be a risk. You will need to exercise your horse’s foot balance as it is essential; in some cases, a set of foot balance x-rays are helpful.


Laminitis is a painful and potentially crippling disease that can be fatal to horses. Diseases with inflammation, hormonal diseases, and mechanical overload, high intake of soluble carbohydrates, obesity, and stress are just some of the causes of laminitis.


Laminitis is very painful, so initially, you will notice your horse is very uncomfortable. If his front two feet are affected, he may rock back to remove some of the weight on his front feet. Some factors that can increase a horse's vulnerability to laminitis or increase the severity of the condition is when it has an overweight body.

There are different symptoms for different types of laminitis:

  • Acute Laminitis — Acute laminitis symptoms may come very suddenly and are usually severe. The horse will show an inability or reluctance to walk or move and may lie down, displaying an unwillingness to get up. There can also be symptoms shown vaguely like colic.
  • Chronic Laminitis — Horses with chronic laminitis will show signs of ongoing symptoms that are generally a result of relapse from previous episodes. The horse’s hoof will have the appearance of growth rings around the hoof wall, which generally indicates that it has suffered from laminitis in the past. The heel will often grow faster than the toe and the white line in the hoof will widen.


If a horse shows symptoms mentioned above, you must call a vet immediately and follow their treatment plans carefully. Correct treatment needs to be administered as soon as possible to prevent any lasting damage to the feet and provide pain relief.


Start by monitoring your horse’s weight and feeding him accordingly. A low-calorie diet is recommended. An obese horse is more likely to suffer from laminitis. You may want to avoid your horse from doing fast work on hard ground as damage to the hoof is a contributor to laminitis.

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Everyday Riding Pains

As large yet sensitive creatures, horses can obtain diseases other than the aforementioned ones.

Back, leg, and hoof pains can give your horse behavioral changes and discomfort. Some of the diseases or injuries it may get are multiple fractures in the upper portions of their back, muscle, and ligament strains. These can, fortunately, be prevented by using proper equipment when riding them like gel pads.

These are some tips that can help you in the initial onset of your horse’s sickness. Having them handy can help prevent worsening the horse’s condition, which is every horse owner’s wish when their pal is in pain. Remember, a happy horse means a happy owner, too.

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