Horse Health Checks

Claire Dunling

The equine experts say that a horse’s brain is in its legs, while the corners are top priority there are still many aspects of your horse’s health to consider…

Routine horse examination

It is advisable that your veterinary surgeon performs an annual horse health check on your horse. However, you, as the owner, can perform regular horse care checks to ensure signs of disease are spotted early. In most cases routine horse care checks are second nature and often you will perform them subconsciously every time you see them. However, the following is a useful horse health check list (although by no means exhaustive) to make on a regular basis:

But in truth if anything makes you uneasy or just looks wrong then contact your vet.

When to call your vet

According to the Equine Industry Welfare Guidelines for Horses, Ponies and Donkeys (2nd Edition 2005), a vet should be consulted urgently if there are any signs of:

Whereas they advise that a vet should be consulted within 48 hours after becoming aware of the following conditions:

Of course, there are many other reasons why you will want to call your vet for assistance and you should feel free to do so. This list is a minimum indication of horse care and the attention that should be available to animals in distress.

Pre-purchase examination

Once you’ve chosen a horse or pony that you would like to buy, before making the final decision, it is advisable to have a pre-purchase examination performed (a vet’s certificate or vetting a horse as it is known). Pre-purchase examinations don’t cost that much (as a proportion of the overall purchase price) and may save you money and heart ache in the long run. You’ll need to discuss with the vete conducting the vetting what type of work the horse will do. If the horse passes the horse vetting then a certificate will be issued. This certificate can be used for insuring the horse or pony when the sale is completed.

Do the paperwork, keep it safe and keep it up-to-date. It is tedious stuff but it protects both you and your horse
John Campbell, Head Vet of Pet Drugs Online

The five-stage vetting process

This is carried out in accordance with guidelines laid down by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) is the recommended form of horse health check exam. At the time of vetting a horse always ask for a blood test to be taken to check for the presence of pain killing drugs. If the horse subsequently becomes lame the blood can be tested to see if there was any drug present at the time of vetting. This insurance policy protects buyers, sellers and vets. The five-stage vetting test may take a couple hours to complete and someone will need to be available to ride the horse during the five-stage vetting.

#1 Observe the horse at rest in a darkened stable and check normal parameters, such as, looking at the eyes and listening to the heart. Your vet will check for any ‘stable vices’; however, you should discuss this with the seller since the vet cannot warrant that the horse is free of them just from the first stage of examination. The horse will then be taken outside, in good light, and be examined for lumps, bumps, blemishes and old injuries. The teeth may be checked to determine the age. The horses overall body condition and conformation will also be noted.

#2 Walking and trotting in hand on a hard surface. Looking for signs of lameness and your vet may choose to carry out flexion tests. Lunging on both reins in a tight circle will exaggerate any subtle lameness.

#3 Ridden under saddle, checking for reaction to being mounted, when being ridden and if they require more strenuous exercise. The vet will listen for abnormal ‘wind’ noises during work and heart abnormalities afterwards.

#4 Cooling off period and check for signs of stiffness after exercise.

#5 Looking with greater depth in areas that were of concern in previous stages. A blood sample will be collected and stored. The vet will ask for a final trot up.

On completion of the five-stage vetting, the vet must then give their opinion. This opinion is based on the observations that day, which will advise the prospective buyer as to whether, on the balance of probabilities, the horse will be suitable for the type of work that the buyer requires the horse for.

Vetting a horse is an area where lawsuits have arisen and therefore vets carry them out thoroughly, carefully and any findings are fully documented.

The vendor’s certificate

The second type of pre-purchase examination is called a vendor’s certificate. This is sometimes issued by the vendor (seller) or by the vendor’s veterinary surgeon prior to selling the horse. These are not to be confused with a five-stage vetting examination and if in doubt then contact your veterinary surgeon for further advice.

Horse passport

The ‘Horse Passport Regulations 2004’ came into effect in June 2004 and means that EVERY horse must now have its own horse passport whether or not it is expected to travel.

The passport regulation is enforced throughout Europe to ensure horses treated with specific medicines do not enter the food chain. The introduction of horse passport should help reduce the risk of a ban being introduced on numerous veterinary medicines needed for day-to-day horse welfare (e.g. phenylbutazone or  ‘bute’).

There is a declaration within the horse passport to determine whether the horse will ultimately end up in the human food chain. As soon as the declaration is signed by an owner it cannot be reversed and the horse will never be allowed into the human food chain. This does affect which pharmaceuticals can be given to the horse.

Further details can be obtained either from your veterinary surgeon or from the following websites: See the DEFRA, Scottish, Northern Ireland or Welsh websites for full details.

This post is an opinion and should only be used as a guide. You should discuss any change to your horse’s care or lifestyle thoroughly with your vet before starting any program or treatment.

If in doubt contact your veterinary practice

And always keep your vet's phone number handy - just in case!