9 Signs of a Healthy Horse You Need to Know

9 Signs of a Healthy Horse

Make sure you know these 9 signs of a healthy horse

If your horse could speak, what do you think they would tell you? We think your horse would tell you how much they enjoy the fresh air, what they like to eat, and how to stay on top of their health needs.

Unfortunately, your horse cannot talk. But your horse does give you signals that communicate how they’re feeling physically and emotionally. A healthy appetite, regular water consumption, energy to ride and train, and a smile on their face are just a few ways your horse tells you how they’re feeling.

In this blog, I highlight 9 signs of a healthy horse that you need to know.

Please contact your veterinarian if your horse is not eating, is not interested in exercising, or shows other unexpected behavior. And do not make any changes to your horse’s exercise or feed routine without contacting your trainer, farrier, and veterinarian.

Sign #1: Normal Vital Signs

Your horse’s temperature, pulse, and respiration rate (TPR) are key vital signs and indicators of their health. Regularly monitoring your horse’s TPR can help you detect problems before they become serious.

Normal temperature ranges:

  • Adult horse: 99.5 to 101.5oF (37.5 to 38.6oC)
  • Foals less than 1 month of age: 100.0 to 102.0oF (37.7 to 38.8oC

Normal pulse rate values:

  • Adult horse: 32 to 36 beats per minute
  • Newborn foals: 80 to 100 beats per minute
  • Foals: 60 to 80 beats per minute

Average respiration rates:

  • Adult horse: 8 to 12 breaths per minute
  • Newborn foal: 60 to 80 breaths per minute
  • Older foal: 20 to 40 breaths per minute

Make sure you read the Grand Meadows blog about how to check your horse’s temperature, pulse, and respiration. In this blog we explain how to monitor these vital signs and what you need to know about TPR and your horse’s health.

Sign #2: Healthy Appetite and Water Consumption

Horses naturally prefer to spend most of the day grazing. However, dried-up grass in the fall can throw off your horse’s eating habits. So, you should monitor how your horse consumes their hay and grain.

Do they gobble it up? Or do they pick through it, leaving many parts behind? Assuming you’re offering your horse high-quality, mold-free food, a lack of appetite can indicate that you have an unhealthy horse.

It’s normal for a horse’s water consumption to decrease in the fall as temperatures cool down. In general, healthy adult horses drink a minimum of 5 gallons of water per day. 

Sign #3: Frequent Bowel Movements

You and your pitchfork know your horse’s bowel movements better than anyone. So, it should be easy to spot if there’s a change in your horse’s excretions.

Examples of changes to watch out for include:

  • Loose stool
  • Dry stool
  • Less frequent defecation

When it comes to urine, healthy horses have yellow to tan-colored urine. If your horse’s urine has red or brown tints, or if you notice a change in your horse’s bowel movements, you should contact your veterinarian.

Sign #4: Pink Gum Color

Gum color can say a lot about horse health. A healthy horse’s gums have a salmon pink color. When checking your horse’s gums, you should assess their capillary refill time.

To check your horse’s capillary refill time, do this:

  1. Press one finger against a spot on your horse’s gum—any spot will do.
  2. Watch the gum, which should turn white, followed by returning to pink in 2 seconds.

If the capillary refill time is delayed or if your horse has pale gums or gums that have a red, purple, or yellow hue, it’s a sign that they’re unwell. Please contact your veterinarian.

Read 5 Things You Need to Know About Your Horse’s Teeth for more about your horse’s teeth and gum health.

Sign #5: Solid Hooves

The fall can bring wet weather that makes hoof care extra important. You should pick your horse’s feet regularly and check for:

  • Puncture wounds
  • Infections
  • Laminitis
  • Thrush
  • Bruises

You should also check for dry and cracked hooves, which can be an issue with wet and cold weather.

To maximize your horse’s hoof health, make sure schedule regular farrier visits. Your farrier can notice issues with your horse’s hooves sooner than you can.

Read Horse Hoof Care: What You Need to Know to learn 4 horse hoof care strategies to help keep your horse’s hooves in top condition.

Sign #6: Happy Behavior

You know your horse. And you know when they’re happy, moody, grumpy, or want to be left alone.

Pay attention to these signs of a happy horse:

  • Bright eyes
  • Alert
  • Interested in their surroundings
  • Interacting with other horses

Sometimes, temporary changes can make a horse unhappy, such as being cooped up in a barn during bad weather. Other times, health issues such as arthritis can cause a horse to change their behavior.

If you notice a change in your horse’s behavior, contact your veterinarian.

Sign #7: Gut Noises

Horse maintenance isn’t complete without a gut check, and this is as easy as listening for noises from your horse’s stomach.

Healthy horses have frequent noises coming from their stomachs. In general, your horse’s gut should be making a low gurgling sound or a long, loud roar. These are signs of a healthy gut working hard to digest food.

If you don’t hear any gut noises – you should contact your veterinarian. A quiet gut can be an indicator of colic.

Sign #8: Shiny Coat

A shiny coat is a baseline indicator of your horse’s health. However, as your horse grows their winter coat, the color may become a bit more dull than normal.

If your horse’s coat doesn’t regain its shine or is constantly dull, this can be a sign of health issues, including:

  • Parasites
  • Insufficient nutrition
  • Larger health issues

As you prepare your winter care routine, it’s crucial to groom your horse frequently to help keep their coat as healthy and shiny as possible.

Read Healthy Coat: How to Give Your Horse a Healthy Coat and Improve Their Health to learn more about what your horse’s coat says about their health and the keys to a healthy coat.

Sign #9: Healthy Body Weight

One of the cornerstones of a healthy horse is keeping their weight in check.

A weight tape can help you measure your horse’s heart girth. You can use a horse weight calculator to determine whether your horse has a healthy weight.

When assessing your horse’s weight, it’s crucial to ensure they have the proper nutrients in their diet, regardless of whether they need to lose or gain weight. Do not make changes to your horse’s diet or feed without first discussing this with your veterinarian.

Do You Have a Healthy Horse?

This is an ideal time to do an in-depth assessment of your horse’s health.

Regularly checking in with your horse and monitoring these 9 signs of horse health may help you catch health issues before they become chronic or serious.

Always discuss any concerns about your horse’s healthy with your veterinarian. Remember, to follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook where we share the latest articles and research about horse health and horse life.

by Nick Hartog

In 1994, Nick Hartog became an owner and President of Grand Meadows Equine Supplements bringing his talents and extensive background in domestic and international equine sales and manufacturing. He has a reputation for plain speaking of the truth. In 1997, when the US horse supplement market was something akin to the Wild West with a complete lack of standards, Nick personally tested 32 different horse joint supplements to see if they matched the label. Unsurprisingly, to him at least, only 2 products matched the label claim. Read more...