Healthspan January 04, 2018

Horses are beautifully complex creatures, so taking care of them is not always easy. By regularly checking them over, you can keep on top of any changes before they become bigger problems. Keep tabs on these four areas…

Joints

Fast fact… There are 3 types of equine joints: synovial, cartilaginous and fibrous. Synovial joints, such as the knee, are the most movable and therefore most prone to injury.

What’s the problem? Over a horse’s lifetime their joints will inevitably experience some degree of wear and tear but spotting the early signs of a problem can help them maintain their mobility for longer. Synovial joints in particular are prone to issues such as inflammation and osteoarthritis.

MOT… Swelling and asymmetry can be signs of joint pain. Run your hands down each leg from knee to hoof, looking out for lumps, swelling and heat, or whether your horse is particularly sensitive to the touch. Pick up the leg and move it through its usual movements – your horse may put up resistance if there are joint problems, in which case you should see your vet for a thorough examination.

Muscles

Fast fact… Muscles form the largest tissue mass in a horse’s body.

What’s the problem? Horses can suffer from a number of muscle-related problems including to their back, limbs and head. These can arise from trauma, such as colliding with fences or other horses, be performance-related resulting from the overuse of a particular muscle group or be associated with ageing.

MOT… When it comes to their limbs, regularly examine your horse walking in a straight line to observe any abnormalities and/or lameness. If you suspect their back has any muscle damage, monitor how they behave with and without saddle. Alternatively if you are concerned about their head, a bulge in the muscles on one side could point to a dental or jaw joint problem. Again, contact your veterinarian if you notice any abnormalities or asymmetries.

Skin

Fast fact…Skin can constitute anywhere between 12-24% of a horse’s weight.

What’s the problem? The skin is a horse’s largest organ and comes up against a whole host of challenges including infections, infestations, sunburn and even cancer. Skin problems may be easier to spot than joint and muscle issues, although some may be covered by their coat.

MOT… Grooming is the perfect chance to thoroughly examine your horse’s skin; make it a daily or, at the very least, a weekly occurrence. Some skin conditions such as acne and warts may be obvious but others such as eczema and saddle sores may manifest themselves in different ways such as redness, scaliness and skin thickening. Most of these will require medication or specialist creams so you will need to ask your veterinarian for further information.

Hair

Fast fact… Surprisingly, there are only two base colours in horses: ‘chestnut’ and black; every other colour is a modification of them.

What’s the problem? As opposed to a shiny coat which can be a good indicator of inner and outer health, a patchy, rough or dull coat can be a sign of a nutritional deficiency or a hormonal imbalance.

MOT… Daily grooming can help both their skin and hair. Pick a sturdy curry comb to help loosen any dirt trapped in your horse’s coat and to help stimulate their skin’s natural oils for a healthy-looking sheen. When combing their mane and tail, always brush downwards but start brushing near the ends first, gradually starting higher up and taking care not to pull too hard on tangles or knots. As tempting as it is to bath your horse regularly, too many soapy washes can strip their glands of oil and lead to a dry and dull-looking coat.

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