Knowing the normal values for things such as breathing rate and heart rate in your horse can be very useful in identifying stress or disease early. Any changes from these normal values indicate a problem. Below is a list of the relevant factors and their normal values.

Heart rate:
At rest = 28-48 beats per minute
At exercise = up to 200 beats per minute
The heart rate is measured with a stethoscope, or by feeling the pulse in the lower leg or jaw, and a stopwatch. If, at rest, the heart or pulse rate is raised this may be a sign that the horse is in pain or stressed.

Breathing (respiratory) rate:
At rest = 10-14 breaths per minute
Breathing rate can be measured with a stethoscope or watching the sideways expansion of the chest. The rate can often be raised when the horse is stressed or sick.

Body (rectal) temperature:
Normal Temperature = 99.5-101.3°F or 37.5-38.5° C
The temperature is taken by inserting the thermometer into the anus of the horse and holding against the side of the rectum. Low readings may be taken if the thermometer is inserted into a piece of faeces by accident. Body temperature may be raised if the horse has recently been exercised or has an infection. It is important to seek advice from your veterinary surgeon if you are inexperienced at this.


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

  • Skin and coat
  • Teeth and eating
  • Eyes, ears, nose
  • Legs
  • Urine and faeces
  • Sheath, vagina
  • Appetite and water intake
  • Behaviour

If anything appears out of the ordinary then contact your veterinary surgeon who will be able to give you advice.


According to the Equine Industry Welfare Guidelines for Horses, Ponies and Donkeys (2nd Edition 2005) a veterinary surgeon should be consulted urgently by the owner or person in charge of the horse if there are any signs of:

  • Acute abdominal pain or colic
  • Serious injury involving deep wounds, severe haemorrhage, suspected bone fractures or damage to the eyes
  • Evidence of straining for more than 30 minutes by a mare due to foal
  • Inability to rise or stand
  • Inability or abnormal reluctance to move
  • Severe diarrhoea
  • Prolonged/ abnormal sweating, high temperature, anxiety, restlessness or loss of appetite
  • Any other signs of acute pain or injury
  • Respiratory distress

A veterinary surgeon should be consulted within 48 hours of the owner or person in charge becoming aware of the following conditions:

  • Marked lameness that has not responded to normal first aid treatment
  • Injury that has not responded to normal first aid treatment
  • Signs suspicious of Strangles or other infectious disease, e.g. nasal discharge, raised temperature, enlarged lymph nodes or cough
  • Sustained loss of appetite
  • Persistent weight loss
  • Skin conditions that have not responded to treatment, including saddle sores and girth galls
  • Other sub-acute illness or injury

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 the attention that should be available to animals in distress.


The purchase of any horse involves you in the taking of a risk; no horse is risk free and at best we can aim to identify, assess and attempt to quantify that risk for you so that you can come to an informed decision as to whether or not to proceed with your intended purchase. Communication between vet and client is the key so that both sides know the intentions and limitations of the examination and can therefore come to the most satisfactory conclusions.

Types of vetting
There is only one type of pre-purchase examination (PPE) that gives you the complete picture and that is the full five-stage examination. Other, shorter inspections leave out certain parts of the full list of examinations and may therefore not give you a full and complete picture of your chosen horse and may not be able to give you an accurate assessment on which to base your decision.

The five-stage vetting is intended to provide you with a cost effective professional evaluation and assessment of a particular horse’s suitability to perform a certain task. It is an examination carried out on a given day and the opinion relates to that day; no long term warranty or guarantee of future health can be expected, although obviously the vet will advise you about the long term implications of any abnormality detected.

We no longer classify a horse as sound or unsound, nor should we say that they have either passed or failed a vetting. The opinion given nowadays is that “the defects noted above are/are not likely to prejudice this animal’s use for…” Consumer legislation and changing requirements have forced this new wording on the profession but the opinion still remains a worthwhile and effective guide to your chosen horse’s suitability.

The 5 stages
Stage 1: The preliminary examination
Initial examination in the stable. General inspection and assessment including eyes, heart, lungs, mouth, ageing etc. This is followed by an examination outside the stable, with the horse standing square on concrete, to allow observation of the whole horse.Stage 2: Trotting up
The horse is walked and trotted in hand in a straight line, then turned tightly and backed up. Flexion tests are also performed and the horse may be lunged or trotted on a hard circle.

Stage 3: Strenuous exercise
Examination under saddle. This is to include mounting, walking, trotting, cantering and, probably, galloping, depending on the type and fitness of the horse. This exercise should be both in circles and in more extended straight lines.

Stage 4: Period of rest
Whilst the horse cools down from exercise, a more thororugh and detailed examination of the hooves, limbs and body is carried out, noting and assessing any abnormalities. The formal identification usually takes place at this stage.

Stage 5: Second trot up
Final trot up, which may include further turning, lungeing on hard ground and repeat flexion tests.

This final stage is followed by the taking of a blood sample for future medication analysis, after a request to the vendor for permission and his declaration that the horse has not received any medication nor has it any vices or allergies except those declared.The Limited PPE (2 stage vetting)
There are numerous occasions when we are requested to perform a shorter version of the 5 stage PPE, for example if the horse is unhandled or unfit. Only the first 2 stages of the PPE, as described above, are carried out. This means that certain breathing, heart and orthopaedic abnormalities may not be revealed since there will be no opportunity for the horse to cool down and stiffen up after vigorous work. If a limited PPE is requested, we ask you to complete and sign a form stating that you have been made aware of the limitations of the exam and that you understand and accept the terms of the arrangement.

Additional tests
Should you, or your insurance company, require any additional tests, such as x-rays of joints or endoscopy of the airways, these can also be performed at the vetting at an additional cost.

Note that a vetting is not the same as an insurance examination. It is quite possible to “pass” a vetting yet discover that insurance proves difficult because of the findings. The vetting assesses a horse’s suitability for the purchaser’s intended use, whilst the insurance companies are more interested in making exclusions on anything that is not strictly normal. It is always wise to obtain insurance cover before purchase, rather than afterwards, in case any exclusions might change your opinion as to whether or not to buy.


All horses, ponies and donkeys are required, by law, to have a horse passport to identify them. Further regulations were introduced in July 2009 to strengthen the current scheme and introduce compulsory micro-chipping for foals and horses not previously identified. You as the owner are responsible for make sure you have an up-to-date horse passport; if you do not have one you could be fined up to £5000. You must not buy or sell a horse without a passport.

Horse passports are important because they help to:

  • make sure horses that have been treated with certain medicines don’t make it into food intended for humans
  • stop the possible spread of diseases, like African Horse Sickness, by restricting horse movements
  • prevent the sale of stolen horses – when you buy a horse, its passport proves its identity

If you don’t have a valid horse passport, you can’t do things like:

  • use your horse in competitions, like a race or show
  • move your horse to a new premises
  • sell or export your horse
  • use your horse for breeding
  • have your horse slaughtered for human consumption

The key changes introduced from 1st July include:

  • mandatory micro-chipping of foals (and adult horses not previously identified) before a passport can be issued.
  • foals must have a passport and microchip by 31st December in the year in which they are born, or 6 months after birth, whichever is the latest
  • the microchip must be implanted by a veterinary surgeon
  • horses must be accompanied by their passport at all times except under special circumstances, e.g. if being moved by foot or transported for emergency care.
  • if the passport is not available or the horse’s food status is not known to the vet, certain veterinary medicines may not be administered or prescribed
  • if your horse dies, the passport must be returned to the issuing authority within 30 days so the passport (and microchip) can be invalidated.

The microchip is a small integrated circuit encased in medical grade glass, no bigger than a grain of rice. It is inserted via a needle into the nuchal ligament of the neck from the left hand side. It is virtually impossible to remove even under surgical conditions. The microchip is programmed with a unique number which can be read by a radio scanner. When the microchip is inserted your veterinary surgeon will ask you to fill out a form with all your and your horse’s relevant information. This information is then stored on a database along with your horse’s number. In any situation where the horse needs to be identified the database can be contacted and your details retrieved.

Section IX
This section is for the owner to declare whether or not the horse is ultimately intended for human consumption. Part II of Section IX must be signed before administration of certain substances (e.g.phenylbutazone). If the declaration has not been signed, it will be necessary to keep a record of veterinary medicines administered. If, in an emergency, the passport is not available and the vet does not know if your horse is signed out of the food chain, the vet will only be able to use certain drugs to treat your horse.

Foot care is essential to ensure your horse remains sound and should be as routine as feeding and watering. Proper foot care and reasonable management can help prevent lameness. Most foot care maintenance can be done by you however it is important to contact your veterinary surgeon or farrier if you are unsure.The second image on the right is a diagram showing the main parts of a horses hoof.

Disease organisms concentrate where animals are confined, so cleanliness is important. Horses kept in a stall or small pen should have their feet picked or cleaned daily. Horses at pasture should also have regular hoof inspections and be picked and cleaned out. A fine bristled brush is also useful for cleaning the sole, frog, and hoof wall.A good protocol to follow is described below:
1. Begin by picking out the heel and use the hoofpick from heel to toe to remove dirt, mud and other debris. It is also important to clean out the cleft between the sole and the frog.
2. Once cleaned check the condition of the hoof in particular the frog.
3. Inspect the shoes to make sure they are in good condition and that there are no missing or loose nails and the nails aren’t projecting beyond the top of the hoof.

Your veterinary surgeon can advise you on an appropriate hoof conditioner or sealant to apply to the hoof. Also, your vet should be contacted if you have any doubts about the health of your horse’s hoof.


The legs of your horse should be inspected on a day to day basis to ensure potential problems are detected early. This inspection involves running your hands up and down all four legs looking for the following:

  • Heat
  • Swelling
  • Scabs, scratches and cuts
  • Lumps and bumps
  • Bot eggs (forelimbs)
  • Anything out of the ordinary

If you discover something, or are not sure, then phone your veterinary surgeon for further advice. It is also important that your horse is trotted up regularly both on hard and soft ground. This can help to detect any potential lameness problems early and, if spotted, it is important that your veterinary surgeon is contacted to obtain further advice.


Some horse owners feel that it is a good idea to ‘wash’ a gelding’s sheath and penis on a regular basis. The theory is that a gelded horse may not let the penis down out of the sheath as regularly as a stallion may, leading to bacterial overgrowth from poor hygiene. However, this has not been shown to be the case. Although regular cleaning may seem worthwhile in terms of overall hygiene, it can in fact create problems for the horse. A certain amount of “smegma” or discharge from the penis is normal and does not necessarily indicate the need for washing.

Why may sheath washing be a bad idea?
The problem arises from the fact that a horse’s penis normally contains a certain amount of commensal (good) bacteria and oils which keep it healthy. Overly frequent washing strips away the oils on the skin and the bacteria are removed by antiseptic shampoos. The lack of oils on the skin of the penis means that the skin will become dry and cracked whilst pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria are able to invade not only the skin but also the cracks that are formed.

These infections can be very difficult to treat and can become prolonged. Therefore, if your horse appears to have a healthy penis and sheath, there is almost certainly no need to wash it at all. Some horses can produce large amounts of smegma or may need their sheath cleaned prior to a show and may benefit from occasional flushing with a mild saline solution.

In extreme cases some horses have developed smegma stones that need to be removed manually. In this instance it is best to seek the advice of your veterinary surgeon who can advise on an appropriate washing regime.

Stabled horses are most commonly housed in “loose boxes”. It is important that these boxes provide adequate room for your horse or pony to lie down in. The minimum size for a stable is 3.66m x 3.66m (12ft x 12ft) and 3.05m x 3.05m (10ft x 10ft) for ponies. It is important to note that these are minimum figures and should be altered to your horse’s individual requirements depending on their size.

Bedding is essential to provide warmth, comfort and protection against cold weather and injury. It should be non-toxic and provide effective drainage to maintain a dry surface and may consist of straw, wood shavings (or mixes), paper or chopped cardboard. Other less favoured alternatives include peat and sawdust, but these are not ideal.

Bedding must be dry and free of dust and mould so ensure you have a good quality supplier.

Stable hygiene
Droppings and wet bedding should be removed at least twice a day. Loose hay and feed should be swept out of the stable and both the stable and yard should be kept clean and tidy.

Fire hazards
All electrical wires and light switches should be out of reach of both horses and rodents and be properly earthed. Piles of used bedding should be stored well away from the stable yard and smoking should not be allowed in the yard area. All fire extinguishers and fire alarms should be checked regularly and fire exits should be kept clear.


The advantages of keeping a horse or pony at grass is that it is natural, promotes socialisation, which can ward off behavioural problems, and the costs of keep are less.

A shelter must be available if your horse is to stay out for long periods of time, especially during the winter months when they need protection from the wind and rain. In the summer, they may need shade from the sun at the hottest time of the day. Such cover need not necessarily be man-made since dense tree and hedge growth is very effective.

During dry summers and when the growing season stops as it gets cold, hay may be needed to supplement the diet.

Fresh water must be provided at all times. A horse’s daily water requirements can vary from 20 to 70 litres. Put feed and water buckets in a convenient place, near gates, to make it easier to check on a daily basis. In the winter months, any covering of ice will need to be broken, often a few times each day.

Horses and ponies will trample down a pasture very quickly, especially in wet conditions and even more so when paddocks are overcrowded. The grass also becomes heavily choked with droppings. In these situations, paddocks must be managed in a systematic fashion. Droppings must be picked up often and, at a minimum, every other day. This is important in controlling the worm egg and fly population in the warmer months. Periodic harrowing of large or numerous paddocks may be more practical than trying to pick up droppings by hand since the spreading of matter across the field will allow the sun’s natural inactivation of parasite eggs.

Cordoning off an area of the paddock to keep free from grazing will help the grass to recover. Then, when the grass has grown back, it can be opened up and another area can be cordoned off. If numerous paddocks are available, rotate their use. All fencing should be in good working order and safe. Post and rail is considered the most acceptable form of fencing as it less likely to cause serious injury to a horse that comes in contact with it. Electric fencing can be used in combination with fences or hedges to make the paddock more secure. Barbed wire should NEVER be used as it can cause serious puncture and ‘cheese wire’ injuries to joints and tendons. These injuries can easily lead to the end of a horse’s career.

In summary:


  • Must be suitable for the situation
  • Maintain a good overall condition
  • Secure enough to keep horses in and undesirables out
  • No barbed wire present or other potential hazards such as sharp edges
  • Horses are prevented from contact if necessary
  • Gates are hung at the correct height and in appropriate places

Water Supply

  • Checked to ensure it is clean and suitable for your horse to drink
  • Troughs should be regularly cleaned out
  • Sufficient quantities for your horse (especially important in the summer)
  • If the source is a stream, ensure that there is sufficient depth to reduce sand intake (can cause sand colic)

The field itself

  • The quality and quantity of pasture produced is adequate for your horse
  • Topping can help to improve the quality of the pasture
  • The pasture is free from poisonous weeds e.g. ragwort
  • There are no items in the field that may injure your horse, e.g. sticks and stones
  • There is adequate shelter and shade
  • There are adequate dry areas for your horse to stand to reduce the risk of mud fever
  • Dung is removed regularly or harrowed to prevent a build up of the worm burden.

Your veterinary surgeon will be able to offer further advice and answer any questions you may have regarding field maintenance.


A horse may be the next most expensive purchase that many people make after a house and car and, clearly, it is important to protect that investment. The cheapest policy will be the cheapest for a reason and may not always be the best or the most suitable for your needs. There are numerous policies available and it is important that you spend some time investigating the various ones. No one has more experience of insurance policies than your vet and it may be worthwhile asking their opinion. Do talk to your horse-owning friends to gauge their opinion.

Illness, injury, theft or accidents can happen without warning and can often be expensive. Accidents involving your horse may result in you being seriously injured or legally responsible to pay large amounts of compensation and legal bills. Insurance is designed to bring you peace of mind and allows you to concentrate on the enjoyment of owning and riding a horse.

Always check exactly what the policy covers; the following is a rough guide:

  • Check that vet fees are covered and that the amount is adequate.
  • Check that there is no limit on how long you can claim for each illness, chronic disease can go on for life. You will want a ‘life’ policy.
  • Check that your horse is going to be covered in its geriatric years. Some policies stop vet fee cover when your horse gets older.
  • Check for ‘third party’ cover. Your household insurance will not necessarily cover you if, for instance, your horse got loose at a show and caused a road traffic accident involving other people’s property.
  • Ask other horse owners which companies they would recommend. You do not want the hassle of delayed payment of a claim, or find that you are excluded for some illness because you could not understand complicated policy wording.

Finally, you must make sure that your horse is kept fully vaccinated.