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Basic first aid for your horse and preparing for emergencies

Know your horse’s normal

You must know what is normal before you can determine what is abnormal. Learn to perform the vital signs tests BEFORE an emergency, and get to know the normal values for your horse.

The following are things you should check on a daily basis.


  • Posture may be your first clue something is seriously wrong.
  • Stretching out may be a normal routine for a horse or could be a sign of colic.
  • Shifting weight from one leg to the other usually indicates pain in one of its legs.
  • Refusing to move could indicate founder.
  • Refusing to bear weight on a limb could indicate a severe stone bruise, foot abscess, joint infection, or fracture.


A good appetite is one of the best indicators of overall health.

If your horse eats lightly at one meal, don’t panic. Check to see if someone else is feeding the horse or overfeeding him or her at other meals. Also, make a mental note of what food is left behind.

A horse that dives into its grain at first and then stops eating after a few bites may have stomach ulcers.


Horses tend to drink an hour or so after they begin eating forage.

A few hay stems or grains in the water are no cause for concern. If the water pail is packed with hay or grain, your horse may be having trouble eating and using the water to soften the feed. This could be due to dental problems.


A normal horse will pass 8 to 10 piles of manure per day. The manure pile should have well-formed fecal balls with enough moisture so that the pile stays stacked.

  • Separation of fecal balls indicates low water consumption.
  • Firm, mucous-covered fecal balls is a sign the horse is taking longer to pass feces and may be due to dehydration.
  • Loose manure could be from a sudden change in feed, nervousness, irritation in the gut, or heat cycles (in mares).
  • Diarrhea is uncommon and could be a severe problem, contact your veterinarian.
  • Extremely dry feces or lack of feces, contact your veterinarian.

When to call the veterinarian


How to check your horse's vital signs

Learn to perform these tests BEFORE an emergency, and get to know the normal values for your horse.


How to prepare for an emergency


How to respond to an emergency


Author: Erin Malone, DVM

Reviewed in 2021

Page survey

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