Recognising your horse has a problem

When a horse is cut or bleeding, the problem is obvious. But in cases of colic, illness or more subtle injury, it may not be as apparent. It is important to know your horse’s normal vital signs as well as its normal behavioural patterns. By observing a change in these signs you may be able to recognise signs of ill health.

There will be variations in each individual horse. Take several baseline measurements when your horse is healthy, rested and relaxed. Write them down and keep them in a handy place, perhaps with your first aid kit so you have them to compare to in case of emergency.

Normal ranges for adult horses are:

  • Heart Rate: 20-35beats per minute
  • Respiratory Rate: 12-20 breaths per minute
  • Temperature: 37.0ºC – 38.5ºC – If their temperature exceeds 39ºC contact us immediately on 0409 884 377
  • Gum colour : normal horses’ gums are a medium pink colour – individual horses may have some variation, so it helps to know your particular horse. Very dark pink or red, or very pale gums may indicate a serious problem and you should contact us immediately.

Other indicators of ill-health:

  • Lethargy, depression or reluctance/refusal to eat or drink (this is a very important sign and often the first thing an owner will notice when their horse is unwell).
  • Skin pliability – pinch a flap of skin on the neck and release. It should immediately snap back into place. If it doesn’t then this indicates dehydration
  • Colour, consistency, and volume of faeces and urine should be typical of the individual’s usual excretions. Straining or failure to excrete should be noted
  • Signs of distress, anxiety or discomfort
  • Presence or absence of gut sounds
  • Evidence of lameness such as head-bobbing, reluctance to move, odd stance, pain, unwillingness to rise
  • Bleeding, swelling, and evidence of pain
  • Seizures, paralysis, or tying up (a form of muscle cramps)
  • Excessive (more than normal) lying down and/or rolling


If your horse is experiencing any of these abnormalities please do not hesitate to phone

0409 884 377
for our veterinary assistance.