Determining the Health of your Horse

January 28, 2021 (published)

There are several markers that can indicate your horse’s level of health, according to Dr. Jennifer Zoller of the Texas A&M Animal Science Department and Extension Service.  She mentions body condition score is probably the most important and this involves looking at the fat covering along the neck, behind the shoulders, over the ribs, over the withers and around the tail head.  If the ribs can be seen, usually the score is 4 or less on a scale of 1-9 with 1 being very thin and 9 being obese.  Ideally, horses should be a 5 or 6. Horses at 8 or 9 are susceptible to developing laminitis or founder.  Any owners with horses at a scale of 4 or less or 8 or greater should have their vet examine the horse’s nutrition and make recommendations for improvement. 

Dr. Zoller mentions horses should have a shiny haircoat, which indicates good nutrition in most cases, and a rough haircoat could be indicative of intestinal parasites or poor nutrition.  Another area to check for your horse’s health is to check the TPR or temperature, pulse and respirations. If you are not comfortable checking your horse’s TPR, ask your vet for help.  You can also listen for gut sounds, but this takes a lot of practice and you will need a stethoscope.  Hearing intestinal sounds is good in most cases but determining what is normal takes a lot of practice.  Certainly, if you cannot hear any intestinal sounds, that is a concern.  Also, monitor the feces and note if the horse  has diarrhea or if the feces are extra dry, indicating possible dehydration.  Having all of this information for your vet can save time and help your vet diagnose your horse’s problem sooner.  

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