Signs of Health and Disease

Can we recognise when our horse is well or when something is wrong? Here are some indications of well-being and illness.


  • #horses
  • #health
  • #illness
  • #welfare

In order to recognise the symptoms of illness of our horse we must first know what, at least generally, the signs of health and wellness are. It is not always easy and immediate to tell if your horse has a health problem that may still not yet be evident; we must learn to recognise the signs through the skills of observation, knowledge and culture of the horse and of course from experience. For this reason, as soon as we identify signs of illness in horses we should call the vet and not think of replacing them with a 'do-it-yourself' approach. Often, in fact, the timely intervention of the vet stops illness in its tracks which, if neglected, could deteriorate and become health problems that are serious and difficult to solve. Therefore recognising the main and most obvious signs of wellness and the symptoms of illness can help us prevent, thanks to the timely intervention of the vet, more serious problems.

Here are the main signs that the horse can transmit to us simply through their body and behaviour:
- In general, when a horse is well, it has a lively and alert attitude, a normal posture, is solid on its legs and its appearance is beautiful.
- Horses usually stand during the day but sometimes you can see a horse lying down and resting during the day. If it is well and simply sleeping, it will get up immediately upon our arrival or in any case becomes aware of our presence in a vigilant manner and if it knows us, it may decide to remain lying down and to continue resting. If it remains lying in an unusual way, if it is shaking, rolling and doesn't want to get up, not even if we prompt it to, this means that something is wrong. If once it has stood up it continues to shake, rasp and wants to get back on the ground, this means that we are probably dealing with colic, i.e. a manifestation of acute pain in the abdomen stemming from the intestines.
- Normally, if the horse lives outdoors or otherwise spends a lot of time outside, it has a shiny fine coat in spring and summer and with the approach of winter the coat will thicken and get longer to protect it from the cold while remaining soft and even. If the coat becomes ugly, patchy, rough and with wheals on the skin, this means that something is wrong; The horse may have contracted a skin fungus or needs worming, which is something the vet will be able to diagnosis.
- The skin must also be clean, without dandruff and if we raise it with two fingers, it should be supple and toned, otherwise it means that the horse is dehydrated.
​- The eyes should be bright and vibrant. Under the eyelids, the membranes must be salmon pink, pale and not red.
- In a healthy horse the heart rate must be 30-40 beats per minute at rest. The pulse may be taken by placing your fingers in the inner surface of the lower jaw. In addition the body temperature, which is measured rectally with a normal thermometer, in a healthy horse varies from 37.7 °C to 38.6 °C.
- The urine should be clear, almost colourless, although sometimes it can be more dense and slightly cloudy when horses have high quality nutrition but this is not a sign of illness.
- The limbs must be dry, i.e. without generalised or local swelling.
- Breathing must be regular and not laboured. Both the nostrils and the sides must move imperceptibly. If the horse has trouble breathing, it will pant, the hips will rise and fall very obviously and the nostrils will dilate.
- At least once a year we should have the teeth of our horse checked by the vet. The teeth, just as for us humans, are very important for the general state of health.