What subtle things will my horse do to tell me he is feeling bad?
Your horse may be a better communicator than say, your ex. (HAHAHA!!) It’s up to you to know his quirks, habits, traditions, personality, and behaviors so that you can be alerted when something isn’t going the way it normally should. The main, take home point is that when something is different - your horse is talking to you!
Ears back can mean discomfort, annoyance, hurry up and feed me, go away, or even "I hurt".
You will need to notice, know, and memorize your horse! Some things to learn:
- Urination and pooping habits. Quantity, quality, location, frequency, duration, color, texture, you name it. When somethings different, something could be wrong. These articles about normal urination and normal manure can help you sort out what to look for.
- Drinking and eating habits. If your piggy suddenly decides that he’s a picky eater, something could be going on. Same with drinking habits, which is why I like buckets or measured automatic waterers.
- How’s his body language? Does he nicker when it’s feeding time? Does he stand in a favorite paddock corner? When is nap time? Any deviation from the norm can be a sign that something (or nothing) is going on.
Does your horse have a regularly scheduled nap time?
- How does he feel when you groom him? Are his favorite spots now his least favorite ones? Is he sore? Does he flinch? Is he hesitant to pick up a leg? Does he shake his head or dance around?
- What’s his TPR? This is your horse's temp, pulse, and respiration. His vital signs are a critical way for you to notice a fever, change in pulse, and change in respiration. These are all great markers for catching illnesses early.
- Does he react when you tack him up? What about under saddle? Is he hesitant, does he resist or act out, bucking even? Is he totally spastic or totally lethargic? It could be a saddle fit issue, or he could be hurting somewhere.
The flehmen response can mean many things in "horse talk".
Some horses are so subtle in their behaviors - it takes a keen eye to see any differences. Other horses like to shout and scream and skywrite what going on - sort of a blessing and a curse, all rolled into one! What behavior differences have you noticed in your horse that led you to catching an illness or injury?