Do you ever observe your horse in the pasture, paddock or stable? What do you pay attention to? And what do you notice? Do you know what is ‘normal’ for your horse? Small deviations in a horse’s behaviour can be signals of, for example, incipient discomfort, illness or social problems. Therefore, make it a habit to observe your horse regularly.
As a horse owner, you naturally want the best for your animal. It is therefore good to have an idea of what behaviour is ‘normal’ for your horse. Is the animal dominant or lower in rank? Does he like to play, does he have friends, does he often sleep in the paddock or in the stable? Eating behaviour and how often your horse drinks are also interesting facts. And of course it is also important to see if your horse eats sand or digs holes.
How a horse behaves in the herd is an important indicator of how he feels. If a horse has friends and often stands, grazes or plays together with others, these are signs of healthy social relationships. If your horse suddenly isolates itself from the other animals, that could be a sign of discomfort or pain. Fatigue, sluggish behaviour or, on the contrary, hyperactivity and overexcited behaviour are also signals to keep an eye on.
Mares in season
If your horse is in the herd, you can also keep a close eye on its hormones. Especially in early spring, many horses get ‘bothered’ by acting up sex hormones such as testosterone and oestrogen. In mixed herds, you can often see this very well. Not only in mares, but also in geldings, especially if they are castrated at a slightly later age. In mares, intense heat can cause not only crankiness or cuddliness, but even stomach ache, cramps and stiffness when walking. It is therefore good to know if being in season is an issue. You can get hormones at the vet to combat severe symptoms and pain, but there are also herbs such as monk’s pepper that have a regulating effect on hormone levels. In addition, omega 3 fatty acids play an important role in the hormone balance of horses as well as humans. Sufficient unsaturated multiple fatty acids in feed help healthy hormone function, several scientific studies have shown. For horses, salmon oil is a good source of Omega 3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA). Vitamin E is also important for a healthy hormone cycle.
Another interesting thing to keep an eye on is your horse’s eating behaviour. A horse that is very greedy on its roughage and is always gulping, may not be getting enough belly filling and fibre during the day. It is wise to offer such a horse more and/or more often – preferably unlimited – roughage. On the contrary, a horse that eats little or slowly may have a problem with its teeth. Moreover, aging horses often have less powerful chewing muscles and therefore take longer to eat. A horse that suddenly abandons its food may have a problem in its mouth, but there could also be something going on in its gastrointestinal system, such as mild colic. Look carefully if you see other signs of this, such as restlessness, tail swishing, belly biting, rolling or sweating.
In any case, it is good to always take a look at your horse’s manure. It should consist of firm, but not dry, balls. Flabby manure, worms in the manure, sand in the manure or dung water indicate problems in the intestines.
A horse licking sand or digging pits in a sand paddock may show by this that it is bored, but it could also be that there is more at play. A shortage of minerals such as trace elements or silicon, for example. Or painful stomach ulcers.
Water requirements and drinking behaviour
It can be tricky to know whether your horse is drinking enough, or suddenly starts drinking more or less. If your horse pees in front of you, always check what the urine looks like. It should be light yellow. Dark urine or even brown urine can indicate dehydration, liver problems and kidney disease. If it is warm, or during heavy exercise, you can offer extra flavoured water and/or electrolytes to make your horse drink more and replenish the sweated out salts. It is also fun and sensible to regularly let your horse choose what he wants to drink. You can make a mineral buffet for this purpose, with buckets of water containing various additives. Examples are rose hip extract (vitamin C), liquid silicon, trace elements and minerals from the Bering Sea and nettle extract (mild waste removal).