Anyone who has owned horses (or been around them) for any length of time knows there are certain recurring veterinary expenses that we have to deal with, such as regular de-worming, whether a feed-through supplement or that which is given in a paste tube, along with annual or bi-annual vaccinations for various diseases. It’s expected and just a part of having our very own horse.
I also have an entire cupboard devoted to veterinary needs and remedies for my horses, so I have a variety of treatments available for many various issues.
A few days ago I explored first aid for horses, such as what you need to keep on hand for those emergency situations where you must begin immediate treatment before your horse can be seen by the veterinarian (like during an especially busy time for emergencies, which happens to the best of us), but there are also things that you should have filed away in your memory as well as certain skills vital to being a good horse owner.
One of these things is being able to tell when your horse isn’t feeling well and what to do about it.
I know pretty much immediately if one of my horses (and fairly quickly with a client horse in my care) is not his or her usual self. There are subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) clues about how they feel, but you really need to be able to spot even minor variances in a horse’s behavior. None of my horses ever lays down during the day unless it’s Winter and the weather was brutally cold overnight.
I will never forget the first time I looked out the window one brisk morning after moving to a vastly different climate (during March, no less) only to notice every single horse was laying down out in the sun. I nearly panicked! Those horses didn’t lay down during the day, there HAD to be something wrong! But no, they were just trying to warm up because it was much colder overnight than they had been used to and it felt good to stretch out in the warm sunshine.
But what if you have observed unusual behavior in your horse -- do you know how to handle the situation and what to do next? How do you determine when you need to call the vet or if you can handle the circumstances on your own?
Most importantly, do you have a mobile vet available and, if not, do you have a means of getting your horse to the clinic or equine hospital (your own truck and trailer, a friend with a rig or phone numbers of those who offer local emergency transport)?
My personal veterinarian used to require that owners haul horses to his hospital for treatment and routine care as well, though they do offer mobile services again. There are a couple of doctors in a pinch I can call out if absolutely necessary, which is also always a good idea, to have the names and numbers of vets other than your regular practitioner. We have a severe shortage of vets in our area, which can lead to most basic vet care being pricier, and rendering emergency care astronomical in cost.
Okay, back on topic. Because, as I mentioned above, I know my horses and I make it my job to become accustomed to my clients’ horses and their daily habits or routines, it’s easy for me to know fairly early on if there is a problem that needs attention. We should all do the same for each and every horse we care for, which may save some of us a great deal of grief and expense down the road.
If you notice something out of character or out of place, check it out. Better safe than sorry. If the horse is laying down more than is normal for that horse, get them up, check gums for color, eyes for brightness, listen for gut sounds and glance around the stall or paddock to see if there’s any reasonably fresh manure or any other signs of elimination.
Also of vital importance is to check up on his water intake -- the more water a horse consumes (up to a point), the better. If he lives with other horses, move him to a separate stall so you can monitor him alone, at least for a while.
If all clues (or at least most of them) point toward a colic episode, begin walking the horse in an effort to help him pass whatever may be causing the symptoms. Remember, all colic is, really, is stomach pain or discomfort, it is not a stand alone illness, and may or may not need more intensive treatment. Some horses are prone to colicking, some rarely exhibit any of the telltale signs.
Generally I will administer a dose of Banamine just before I begin the walking regimen, which helps to ease the pain and calm much of the muscle cramping and stress. If the horse passes manure or gas and begins to appear like he’s feeling better within a reasonable amount of time, wonderful. If you see no improvement within an hour (or immediately if you notice things deteriorating), call your vet. It’s actually not a bad idea to alert your veterinarian at the earliest onset of symptoms, even if only by contacting their emergency exchange, to let him or her be aware you have something going on with your horse that they may need to treat.
Be prepared, however, when you do speak with your vet (or their answering service), to explain in detail what’s going on, what you think may be wrong and what you have observed, because they will ask you so they can best determine the course of action and how high of a priority the situation with your horse needs to be on their list.
Sometimes a horse will injure itself and it will be something you can easily treat yourself, other times you will need to get a vet’s care.
Keep a close eye on your equine and gather as much understanding as you can about his or her normal activities and how they look. You might be called on to save his or her life one day!