Here comes the first blog from Louise M. Martin, our special advisor for Horse welfare. The whole team of Exploring Iceland is very fond of horses and you will find us usually in the saddle in our spare time! That is the reason, why we put so much emphasis on Horse Welfare in our tours. We want "our" horses to be well taken care of, well fed and well rested before they go on tour. That is why we pick and choose our partners carefully and are very happy to work with the great horsemen and women who operate all of Exploring Iceland on horseback Tours.
As Louise points rightly out in her first blog, only 100% healthy animals should be used for riding where ever in the world you go for a tour. (Please see "read more")
HEALTH CHECK IN A HORSE
Hurrah for my first blog entry! This will be a recipe for a quick health check. You can rightly assume that you will only get healthy horses for your riding trips. But as with a rental car, I always like to be sure of it myself. Of course you won’t become veterinarians in 10 minutes, but I’ll tell you what’s relevant and/or important.
The most important thing is to have a system and to add everything into your assessment. So you start at the nostrils and work your way all the way back to the end of the tail.
Following a system we will start at the head. The nose is the only window available to judge the respiratory system. Any colourful discharge is an indication of a problem. We don’t like it to be green, red or white. The horse can only breathe through its nose, so it’s important that the airways stay clean. The eyes should be alert and equally open on both sides. You can forget about the ears because a) you won’t find them amidst all the hair and b) there’s hardly ever anything wrong with them.
Following the neck down, check for injuries such as scratches, missing hair or bumps. Do the same on the front legs, the belly, the back and the back legs. And don’t forget the other side of the horse. To judge a horse for lameness, check if it puts equal weight on all legs and if it walks evenly – not always an easy task for Icelandic horses: they tend to always switch gaits on us.
If the horse looks well on the outside, we still have to pay attention to it’s insides and that’s the tricky part. I don’t expect any of you to bring a stethoscope to a horse riding trip (even I leave the house without one from time to time), but it’s still possible to assess what’s going on in that huge belly. If your horse is breathing heavily and sweating before any exercise, if it’s pulling up the belly or the ribs are overly visible when breathing, you can assume that the horse is experiencing belly pain = colic. Another sign is twitching of the ears and tails and a general agitation (I’ll write another post about the origin and symptoms of colic.)
Now you checked your horse and maybe you found something or not. Only experience will teach you if f. ex. an injury at the fetlock is only a scratch or an open articulation in need of immediate attention. But always try to take the whole horse into consideration. If the horse is alert, attentive and shows no lameness or unwillingness to move, than probably it’s really only a scratch. If you have any doubts though, don’t hesitate to ask our partners at the farm. They know their horses better than anyone and can tell if a horse is sick or if it just got up on the wrong side of the bed in the morning.