Of Horse

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Knowing Normal: Identifying Your Horse's Distress Signals
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Knowing Normal: Identifying Your Horse's Distress Signals

I recently had the distinct honor of standing side by side with one of my dearest friends on a most difficult day. It started out great – we were sorting through tack and show clothes and talking about shows to come, just enjoying the beautiful spring day. We decided to take our day’s work outside because it was so incredibly nice out after such a long, cold winter.

Working and laughing not far from the pasture, it became obvious that we had an animal in distress. After talking about it later, we both realized that anybody else may not have noticed that her beloved horse was having trouble. I mean, he was just scratching an itch to get rid of that pesky shedding winter coat of his. Or was he?

Some horses seem to never lay down; others sunbathe all afternoon. Some drink gallons of water all at once right after eating a meal; others sip water throughout the day. Some horses kick and snort and run around like fools at the sight of a foreign object; others are curious to discover new things.

In that moment it became blatantly obvious exactly how important it is to know your horses’ normal behavior and how they react to situations or conditions. My friend, my daughter and I make a point to know every inch of our animals’ bodies and put them in, what some may consider, weird situations to learn how they respond so that, in an emergency, we can identify anything that is not normal.

The only way for us to truly learn a horse’s or mule’s or donkey’s normal behavior is to dedicate time to learning it. And the only way for us to recognize a new bump, lump or lesion on one of their bodies is to spend time touching them all over, all the time. This is a bonding, relationship-building activity that rewards us and the animals in our daily routine, but ultimately it could come down to aiding us in making rational, instinctual decisions without hesitation in life or death situations.

When one can immediately recognize a horse’s distress signals by the slightest out-of-the-norm behavior, she will not delay care and will make the best decisions for the horse’s benefit. If you have other people in your life who know your animals just as well as you do and can immediately identify if they are not acting "right", you are truly blessed.


Photo courtesy of Countryside Photography.

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  1. SOequine
    So true! seemingly "normal" behaviour to others can ring alarm bells for us when we know our horses well. Experienced this on Saturday when I had a case of colic for the first time ever, after a lifetime of experience and ownership. I have also spotted laminitis in the very early stages, the vet was amazed. It pays to really know your horse. Great read, thank you!
    1. Karin Barga
      Karin Barga
      Thank you!

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