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Signs of health in a horse - what to look for in a healthy horse or pony

Appetite -  Some horses are fussy about their feed. Familiarise yourself with the type and volume of feed they each like and each morning and evening check the feed bin to see how much has been eaten. If little or none, check the palatability of the feed and whether or not there has been any change in quality or type. If there is no logical explanation for loss of appetite, regard it as one of the first signs of illness.    

Coat and skin - Coat will vary with breed, season and housing conditions (stabled and/or rugged). For instance, the thoroughbred has a fine coat in summer; the Shetland   has a long, thick, two layered coat in winter. When the coat is long or thick, short or fine, it should be evenly distributed, except during the process of shedding the winter coat in spring. Normally the coat should be soft with lustre. The skin should be supple and elastic with no sign of bald patches, rubbing inflammation or oozing.

Condition and weight - A horses condition varies with breeds, feed and exercise. Condition can also vary within breeds; some may be well muscled condition, others may be fat or thin. A thin horse is not necessarily unhealthy. A horse on the same ration and exercise routine maintains a certain weight for years. If suddenly, or over a period of time, it starts to loose weight, check your horse carefully. Weight loss or gain in association with some other signs, e.g. poor coat, diarrhoea, poor appetite, lethargy or poor work performance, is indicative of a health problem.  

Conformation - To examine a horses conformation, look at it standing still from a short distance away to ascertain overall balance, then examine it more closely for overall body detail, limb detail and relationship of limbs to each other. The horse should then be observed in motion to evaluate its conformation.

Demeanour - This may vary tremendously in different breeds, individuals and situations. When approached, the horses normal demeanour is to move away, stand or come to you. Moving away may present a problem catching it. Changes in demeanour such as quiet or excited, alert to dull, placid to aggressive, relaxed to restless mat indicate a more significant problem. 

Droppings - This usually occurs 10 - 15 times a day. Colour, consistency, volume, odour and frequency of droppings vary considerably with type of feed and exercise.  A horse on a well balanced diet should pass droppings that are brown, formed, tend to break up as they hit the ground and have an odour that is not unpleasant. Horses on lush green feed will often pass greenish, unformed, cow like droppings. Those on large volumes of low grade hay will pass hard, dark coloured pellets.

Ears - These should stand erect in an alert but not rigid position. One ear should not flop nor should there be any sign of discharge or heavy wax build up.

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