Signs of a Horse's Good Health
by Janice Sojka, VMD, & Mark Russell
In addition to body condition,
other signs can help determine the health status of horses. Observing horses at
competitions and other events is a good way to establish a standard for what is
normal. Here are some specific indicators of health in horses:
A bright, actively interested horse can be recognized
at a glance. His attitude will be alert, inquisitive, and attentive. He will not
have the dull, lethargic look that can come with overtraining, overuse, or ill
health. When in a pasture, lot, or paddock horses normally try to stay in a
group--a horse off to itself may be hurt or ill. Normal healthy horses chew
evenly with both sides of their mouth and show predictable enthusiasm for
A shiny, glossy hair coat is one of the best
indicators of a healthy horse. Hair coat is reflective of good nutrition and
health and can be improved by regular grooming.
Normal, healthy horses have healthy hoof wall
tissue. The wall should grow at a rate of 1/4" to 1/2" per month. The
hoof should be smooth with no cracks. When viewed from the side, the hoof should
form a straight line with the front of the pastern.
The eyes should be bright, fully open, and clear without
discharge or a glazed, dull appearance.
The water balance of a horse is vital to health. A
skin fold test can be done by pinching a fold of skin on the neck, pulling it
out, and noting the number of seconds the skin takes to return to its position.
One half to one second is normal.
Horses normally have firm manure balls that are not
loose and watery and do not contain undigested grains, etc. Urine is normally
wheat-straw colored and not cloudy or dark red.
Mucous Membrane Color
The membranes of the horse's gums and lip
should be a healthy pink color. Pale white, yellow, or deep purple colors are
all cause for concern.
A horse's circulation may be assessed by gently pressing
your thumb against its gums and counting the number of seconds required for
color to return to the area after the thumb is removed. One to two seconds is
The normal heart rate of an adult, resting horse is
40 to 45 beats per minute for a mid-sized horse, 25 to 30 beats per minute for a
heavy horse, both varying with the horse's age, ambient temperature, humidity,
exercise, and excitement levels.
The normal respiratory rate of an adult horse
at rest is 8 to 16 breaths per minute. Exercise, ambient temperature, humidity,
fever, distress, pain, and anxiety will increase the respiratory rate.
The normal body temperature of a horse is 98 degrees
to 101 degrees F. A hot, humid environment, exercise, or dehydration will
increase the temperature 2 degrees to 3 degrees F.
Janice Sojka, VMD, is in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences
at Purdue University. Mark Russell is with Purdue's Department of Animal
Sciences. Their scoring system is adapted from “Horse Industry Handbook” put out
by the American Youth Horse Council.