• What is your horse’s temperature? Normal horse temperatures can range from 98 to 101.5 degrees — there is usually variation based on the ambient temperature and/or recent exercise. Owners should have a thermometer and know how to use it.

Dr. Swinehart recommends having more than one digital thermometer in the barn; she says that they can vary some from one to another, and they tend to stop working inconveniently. However, they are inexpensive and vital to have on hand. 

In the event of almost any equine disorder, one of the first questions the vet will ask is does the horse have a fever? “Fever” would be any temperature above 101.5. A low fever may indicate a bacterial infection, such as pneumonia, while an acute-onset high fever could suggest a viral respiratory disease. It is also extremely important for owners to take their horse’s temperature before administering any anti-inflammatory medications which would mask a fever. Horse temperatures are taken rectally: the thermometer is inserted several inches and held in place until it beeps to indicate that the temperature has been registered. It is nice to put a little Vaseline or KY Jelly on the tip of the thermometer to make it more comfortable for the horse. 

• Another question horse owners should be prepared to answer is “What is the horse’s resting heart rate?” The resting heart rate should be somewhere from 36-42 beats per minute. To check a horse’s resting heart rate, make sure that the horse is thoroughly cooled down and fully recovered from any exertion, and then use a stethoscope or feel for the hearbeat behind the elbow on the left side of the horse’s body. Some horse’s heartrates can be seen or felt in their facial artery or you can take their pulse at the jugular vein. Listen or feel for the heartbeat, counting how many times you hear it for ten seconds. Then multiply that number by six to determine how many beats per minute. An elevated heart rate could mean trouble.

• What is the horse’s respiratory rate? A horse that is in pain may have increased respiration, and the more elevated these numbers are the more they might indicate distress. Resting respiratory rates can also differ based on the weather; high temperature and humidity can affect respiratory rates as horses struggle to cool themselves. To determine your horse’s breathing rate, watch their sides and count their breaths for ten seconds, multiplying that number by six to determine how many breaths per minute. 

• Another element to pay attention to is your horse’s mucus membranes and capillary refill time. If you press your fingertip into your horse’s gums and then remove it, you should see the area whiten briefly until the blood returns. The amount of time it takes for the color to return to the gum is called the capillary refill time. Two seconds or less would be normal. Slow refilling or dry, tacky-feeling mucus membranes indicate dehydration. Yellow, pale or purple gums might indicate a serious condition. 

• Check his legs. Dr. Swinehart stressed that it is important to know your horse’s legs and to be able to recognize if a joint is swollen or if there is unusual heat present anywhere. Knowing your horse’s normal lumps and bumps will help you recognize if there are any new ones. If you find a bump that wasn’t there before, examine it carefully: is it hot or cold? Soft or hard?

•When assessing any problems, it is also vital to be familiar with the details of your horse’s maintenance schedule. If your horse comes up suddenly and severely lame, knowing when he was shod can help determine the likelihood of an abscess or a “hot” nail (one that is too close to, or hitting, sensitive structures.) Owners should know when their horse’s teeth were last floated, when they were vaccinated, and any changes to their environment such as the introduction of new hay, grain or a new horse on the premises. 

• What about diet? Dr. Swinehart suggests that owners should also be attentive to what their horses eat, what supplements they get, as well as how the horse eats: Does he normally eat voraciously or is he a picky eater? Does he drop food or quid his hay (make little balls of the hay as he chews it?) Does he tilt his head to one side? How much water does your horse typically drink in a day? Does he love to take naps in the morning or does he almost never lie down? 

Would you recognize it if your horse’s normal was abnormal? Knowing when there is a problem before it has become obvious can save time and money. It could even save your horse’s life. 

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Spring 2022

Our Spring 2022 edition features the 2022 Grand Prix Eventing Festival at the Aiken Horse Park, a New Age of Nursemares and more. Cover: Boyd Martin and Fedarman B winning the GPE festival.

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