By Jerry Tardif
Whenever I visit my horse, whether to ride, train, or just to check on and visit him, I perform a quick, whole-body survey.
I do this even if I was with him the prior day.
Something can easily happen or change from day to day.
This is a great way to discover problems early when they're not yet an emergency and I highly recommend it to all horse owners, and even renters and lesson students who care about the horses they ride.
The more you do it, the more you'll know when something doesn't feel right and needs attention.
To perform the survey, I run my hands methodically over his whole body starting at his head and then down his neck to his trunk, all over his sides and under his complete belly.
I cover one side from top to bottom, including down each leg to its hoof, then do the same on the other side.
I'm feeling for wounds, ticks, fly eggs, bumps, depressions, swelling, hot spots, and anything else that doesn't seem right.
The whole survey takes me about 30 - 60 seconds and I get more sensitive each time I do it because I'm really getting to know his body and what feels right and doesn't.
I started doing this right after I got him as a way to give him a quick check.
Some people have complained their horses hate it if you look into their ears or put a finger in.
But it's very important to include checking their ears and other facial features as part of the body survey.
I touch and feel the complete outside of both ears and then quickly run a finger tip into each ear feeling for sores, fly eggs, liquid (blood, serum, etc.) or anything else that just doesn't seem right — and no, my horse has no problem with my putting a finger into his ears, though he did at first.
Many horses are initially uncomfortable with anyone toughing their ears at all, even on the outside, let alone inside.
But you can desensitize your horse to almost anything.
It just takes some patience and slowly getting your horse used to being touched there.
In fact, it's a good idea to do so, if for no other reason so he/she will let the vet check the ears during a physical.
Think of what our horses have already had to learn not to fear, such as a halter being placed around the head and neck, no less; or a bit being placed in their mouth, the floating of their teeth, the sound of clippers near their face if a show horse, and much more.
The ears are no different.
I also check his teeth, look at his eyes, and look into his nostrils. I'm not doing a medical examination, just looking to assure I don't see a cut or other injury, a foreign object, blood oozing, bug bites or eggs — that sort of thing.
Since doing the survey, I've found and removed ticks before they get very big, fly bites that need a salve and repellent, and most fortunately, I found a 2.5 inch deep puncture wound in his right shoulder which required veterinary attention to tranquilize, lance, flush, and suture.
I found that puncture during a survey one morning when I felt the wetness of the serum oozing down his leg — he didn't show any signs of pain and walked normally.
But it was a deep wound that my vet later told me could have resulted in a nasty infection and threatened his ability to walk if not noticed soon enough.
But because it was found soon after it happened, it required fairly minor medical treatment.
Checking our horse every time we visit or ride is a good way to catch problems while they're still minor and easily treated, and it builds your horse's trust in you.
It also means we're greatly reducing the chance our horse has to suffer with a problem until we notice — I'd feel very badly about that.
Besides being an avid trail rider, Jerry Tardif is a technology consultant and a horse and nature photographer in SE Connecticut — see his work at: www.jerrytardif.com.
He is also co-founder and President of QueryHorse.
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