Rural Heritage Vet Clinic

Signs of a Horse's Good Health

by Janice Sojka, VMD, & Mark Russell

In addition to body condition, other signs can help determine the health status of horses. Observing horses at competitions and other events is a good way to establish a standard for what is normal. Here are some specific indicators of health in horses:

A bright, actively interested horse can be recognized at a glance. His attitude will be alert, inquisitive, and attentive. He will not have the dull, lethargic look that can come with overtraining, overuse, or ill health. When in a pasture, lot, or paddock horses normally try to stay in a group--a horse off to itself may be hurt or ill. Normal healthy horses chew evenly with both sides of their mouth and show predictable enthusiasm for eating.

Hair Coat
A shiny, glossy hair coat is one of the best indicators of a healthy horse. Hair coat is reflective of good nutrition and health and can be improved by regular grooming.

Hoof Growth
Normal, healthy horses have healthy hoof wall tissue. The wall should grow at a rate of 1/4" to 1/2" per month. The hoof should be smooth with no cracks. When viewed from the side, the hoof should form a straight line with the front of the pastern.

The eyes should be bright, fully open, and clear without discharge or a glazed, dull appearance.

The water balance of a horse is vital to health. A skin fold test can be done by pinching a fold of skin on the neck, pulling it out, and noting the number of seconds the skin takes to return to its position. One half to one second is normal.

Horses normally have firm manure balls that are not loose and watery and do not contain undigested grains, etc. Urine is normally wheat-straw colored and not cloudy or dark red.

Mucous Membrane Color
The membranes of the horse's gums and lip should be a healthy pink color. Pale white, yellow, or deep purple colors are all cause for concern.

A horse's circulation may be assessed by gently pressing your thumb against its gums and counting the number of seconds required for color to return to the area after the thumb is removed. One to two seconds is normal.

Heart Rate
The normal heart rate of an adult, resting horse is 40 to 45 beats per minute for a mid-sized horse, 25 to 30 beats per minute for a heavy horse, both varying with the horse's age, ambient temperature, humidity, exercise, and excitement levels.

Respiratory Rate
The normal respiratory rate of an adult horse at rest is 8 to 16 breaths per minute. Exercise, ambient temperature, humidity, fever, distress, pain, and anxiety will increase the respiratory rate.

The normal body temperature of a horse is 98 degrees to 101 degrees F. A hot, humid environment, exercise, or dehydration will increase the temperature 2 degrees to 3 degrees F.


Janice Sojka, VMD, is in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Purdue University. Mark Russell is with Purdue's Department of Animal Sciences. Their scoring system is adapted from “Horse Industry Handbook” put out by the American Youth Horse Council.

Table of Contents
Subscribe Homepage Contact Us
rural heritage logo    PO Box 2067, Cedar Rapids IA 52406-2067
Phone: 319-362-3027    Fax: 319-362-3046

26 October 2011 last revision