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The Importance of Knowing your Horse

Scottie with his whiskers

Just like us, all horses are different. They have different personalities and different bodies. When I was at University, it was drilled into me how important it is to know what is normal for your horse. And I can’t express how true this is. If you know what is normal for your horse, you can save yourself a lot of stress and you are more likely to take the right action if there is a problem. So here are a few examples on when knowing your horse might come in handy.

Small/Minor injuries.
Horses as a general rule are accident prone. Unfortunately, vets are expensive and unless you are made of money, you don’t want to be calling a vet out every time your horse nicks himself in the field. Knowing your horse will help you decide when an injury needs a vet. If your horse has never swollen or been lame from a cut leg for example, if they are showing swelling and lameness, you should probably think about calling the vet. However, if there is no swelling or lameness, you will probably just want to clean it up and see what it looks like tomorrow. Similarly, if your horse usually swells and/or is lame and isn’t on this occasion, I probably wouldn’t call a vet.

Scottie is Very good and giving his legs stripes! Not long after I had him he gave himself a nice deep cut on the inside of his leg near a joint. Because of the swelling being only down the inside of the leg, the vet thought he might have also damaged the ligament. A week later it was obvious he hadn’t and a few similar injuries over the next few years has taught me that if Scottie gives himself a good cut on the inside of his leg, his normal reaction is to swell down the inside for a few days and then he’s fine. Therefore, for one of these injuries, I wouldn’t be calling a vet unless the outside of the leg was swollen or I was worried about how close it was to the joint.

Catching the Early signs of Colic and general illness.
Colic is the biggest killer of horses in the UK. But knowing your horse can help recognise the signs and help your vet identify the type of colic the horse is suffering. Things like knowing how many poos your horse usually does while stabled overnight, how messy their bed usually is, how much water he usually drinks and if they usually finish their hay or not can all be used to recognise your horse might be feeling a bit under the weather.

If your horse has done less poos than usual, this may suggest a blockage in the intestines, which is a common cause of colic. This is why if your horse is a bit colicy, them doing a poo is often a good sign. Similarly, horses with colic often don’t want to eat or drink. So your horse eating/drinking less may be a sign of discomfort.

If you think your horse may be a bit under the weather, you can check their TPR (Temperature, Pulse Rate, and Respiration Rate.) While this is useful, if you do not regularly check your horse’s TPR, you won’t know what is normal for your horse. So this can be miss leading. An example of this would be if you take your horse’s temperature when you think he might be a little under the weather and you get a reading of 38oC. This temperature is within the normal range for horses, however, if your horse’s normal temperature is lower (such as around 37oC,) you would likely miss this being abnormal for your horse.

I am not saying you shouldn’t check your horses vital signs if you are worried about him. But if you do not regularly check them or know what his normal is, don’t take the results as being all okay.

Recognising Stress.
We all like to think our horses are happy and stress free with us, mainly because it makes us feel better but also because stressed unhappy horses are harder to keep. Stressy horses can be a nightmare to keep weight on and unhappy horses can be difficult to work with. Therefore as horse owners, I feel that it is important to be able to recognise when our horses are unhappy so that we can react accordingly. Whether that be changing feed and management for a long term problem or simply avoid pushing them too much that day.

Horses display stress in many different ways. Some horses are really obvious showing behaviours such as fence/box walking and others are much more subtle. Sometimes there is nothing you can do to remove the cause of the behaviour, so sometimes you just need to learn how to manage it. There has been times when Scottie has lived out 24/7 by himself. He coped very well with this, but I did notice a slight change in his behaviour where he was spookier and a bit needy. So during this time I was quieter, positive and might put our martingale on to keep his ears out my nose! Scottie has also been known to jog when upset, both on the ground and ridden. A lot of the time I have no idea what exactly upset him and arguing with him about it only makes it worse. So I have learnt to ignore this behaviour and it generally stops quite quickly as he gets over whatever it was that bothered him.


I hope these examples have helped you realise the importance of knowing your horse if you didn’t already. It’s something that people have always said to me, but I never really understood the impact it could have until I got my own horse. I use my knowledge of ‘normal Scottie’ to make so many decisions on day to day things with him and I’m sure many of you do too without realising it.

Last Updated on 22/12/2021

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