signs your horse may be unhealthy

Signs Your Horse May Be Unhealthy

Written By:

pivo-logo
The Pivoriders Team
Website | + posts

Horses that are feeling sick will display various behavioral and physiological signs. These signs indicate that the horse is not in their normal state and that a veterinarian should be notified. You can assess a horse’s normal condition by looking at its vital signs, appetite and weight, body condition, posture, thirst, and physiological measurements. Here are some signs your horse may be unhealthy and not feeling 100%.

Things to look out for

  • Any liquid substance leaking from the eyes/nose/ears
  • Visible difficulty breathing or severe coughing
  • Increased sweating and respiration
  • Injuries, such as puncture wounds or lameness
  • Incapable of standing correctly, or hesitant/reluctant at standing
  • Reluctant to move, pawing at the ground frequently
  • Changes in foot or coat condition
  • Sudden weight gain or loss
  • Behavioral changes
  • Diarrhea symptoms or droppings that are different from usual
  • Changes in their drinking habits and appetite

Horses that are sick will behave differently. The horse will become less active and will often move away from the herd or spend time alone when they usually do not.

Another good indicator is the change in your horse’s ears, eyes and tail movements.

You should also be aware of any behavioral changes such as inappetence or fence walking, weaving, or crib biting, as this could also be a sign that there is a problem. In any case, it is vital to note that it is your horse’s behavior that will generally indicate something is wrong.

Get to know your horse’s vital signs

You should be familiar with the normal behavior and vital signs of your horse so that you are able to recognize when it is sick. You should keep a record of your horse’s normal behavior and vital signs so you can refer to them in an emergency.

  • Pulse
    Normal resting pulse rate should range between 32-40 beats/minute.
  • Respiratory rate
    Normal respiratory rate should be between 8-20 ml/min.
  • Rectal temperature
    Temperature between 37.5 and 38.5 is considered normal.
  • Gum color
    The color of your horse’s gums should not be darker than light pink.
  • Time for capillary refill
    It should take around two seconds for the capillaries to refill after a light-moderate pressure.

Get to know the regular urine and feces output of your horse(s)

It is essential to learn about the typical color, consistency, volume, and frequency with which your horse passes urine and manure on a daily basis. A horse should urinate at least twice daily and pass their feces six to twelve times per day. Changes of the norm could indicate a problem.

Can I prevent my horse from getting sick?

In short, no, it is not possible to avoid altogether due to their nature. However, you can reduce the risk by providing consistent regular health care and getting to know your horse well enough to know when something is not right. The basic necessities should be:

  • Allow access to fresh water 24/7
  • Allow access to fodder, grass or hay
  • Implement a parasite control program
  • Regular farrier work, every 4-6 weeks
  • Dental work when required
  • Isolate any new or potentially ill horses from the rest

Have an emergency plan in place

Preparation is key to avoiding poor performance in an emergency situation. What should you do in the event of a medical emergency?

Contact information

It is a good idea to have a list of important persons’ contact information and how you can reach them after hours.

  • Vet
  • Dentist
  • Farrier
  • Chiropractor

First aid kit

A well-stocked first aid kit is essential. A first aid kit should contain gauze and bandages as well as a digital thermometer, rubber gloves, and antiseptic.


We have learned that it is crucial to recognize unusual behaviors. Horses are unique individuals, so some may have slow eating habits or prefer to be with just a few horses rather than mingle with your entire herd. These traits may not be unusual for the individual. 

It is vital to be familiar with your horse’s normal state and how it reacts to illness so that you can quickly identify it if it does not feel right. It is important to be consistent and aware in your evaluation of your horse so that you can promptly identify and seek treatment when necessary.

Want to join a community of other horse riders? Consider joining our Official Pivo Horse Riding Community to meet other horse lovers like yourself!

Leave a Reply