By: Dr. Patricia J. Provost
Read By: Pet Lovers
General Health and Appearance
This is a record of the height, color, gender, age, physical markings and blemishes, and overall appearance of the horse. Included in this are comments about the horse's demeanor.
Assessment of Conformation
This assessment is to determine if the horse has any underlying conformation problems that will limit his ability to perform the intended use. A conformational flaw may be acceptable for some uses and not for others. For example a young horse that toes-out on his front feet but that is currently sound may continue to be a sound pleasure horse as he ages but may become lame if he were to compete in long distance endurance events.
The eyes are examined for normal vision and presence of diseases or conditions that may affect future sight. An exam using an ophthalmoscope is necessary. If questionable lesions are found, your veterinarian may refer you to a veterinarian that specializes in ophthalmology for the definitive call.
Examination of Mouth and Teeth
The alignment, wear, and absence of teeth are checked. The odor, ability of the horse to chew and swallow normally, as well as the health of the gums, tongue, and mucous membranes are assessed. Age confirmation is also attempted. As horses mature, an age range and not an exact age is often all that is possible due to individual horse and breed variations.
Examination of the Respiratory System
The nose is examined for symmetry of shape, volume of airflow, odor, and presence of nasal discharge. The sinuses are examined for pain and congestion. The horse's larynx, trachea, and chest are palpated and listened to using a stethoscope to determine if abnormalities exist. The horse's respiratory rate and his effort to breath are recorded prior and immediately following at least 10 minutes of forced exercise. The horse's chest, trachea, and larynx are again evaluated immediately following exercise. During exercise careful attention is paid to whether or not the horse makes an abnormal respiratory noise which would suggest an underlying problem.
Evaluation of the Heart
The heart rate and character of the horse's peripheral pulses are assessed at rest and immediately following exercise. The heart itself is also examined with a stethoscope before and after exercise. The veterinarian will be listening for changes in the rate and rhythm of the heartbeat and for the presence of heart murmurs. Some types of disturbances in the heart's rhythm as well as some types of murmurs are considered insignificant findings. Other types, however, are not. An electrocardiogram (ECG) and an ultrasound of the heart may be required to fully characterize the problem and determine its significance for the horse. A specialist may be consulted if the veterinarian has any doubt as to the significance of his or her findings.
Evaluation of the Digestive System
Many components make up the horse's digestive system and long term health is impossible to predict. In the examination the abdomen is auscultated using a stethoscope to listen for unusual motility sounds and the abdomen is examined for surgical scars suggestive of previous abdominal surgery. The horse's appetite and weight may provide clues as to whether or not ulcers are present. Laboratory tests, endoscopic evaluation of the stomach, rectal palpation, and ultrasound imaging of the abdomen can be performed to identify certain problems if they are a concern.
In most instances, only the external appearance of the genitals is examined for pathology. Horses can develop infection or stones within their kidneys or their bladder but these are uncommon. Procedures necessary to rule these conditions out may include rectal palpation, ultrasound evaluation, endoscopic evaluation of the bladder, and laboratory analysis of a urine sample. Horses that are to be used for breeding, whether they are a mare or a stallion will require more intensive scrutiny. Mares dependent on their age and breeding history may require at minimum a rectal examination confirming their pregnancy or as much as ultrasound evaluation, vaginal examination, uterine biopsy and uterine bacterial and fungal cultures for those that have previously failed to conceive. Stallion prospects should have all portions of their reproductive system evaluated, including their semen and their libido.
Examination of the Nervous System
The horse has many nerves, known as cranial nerves, which innervate the function of the head, which are tested for in other portions of the examination. For instance, eye movement, sight, ability to swallow, and symmetry of the face. In addition to the cranial nerves, assessment of the nerves to the rest of the horse's body is performed. The horse's posture, gait, coordination, and body weakness will be assessed through the use of several neurologic tests. Evidence of cutting the nerves to the feet or tail will also be ascertained. Horses with abnormal responses may require further diagnostic tests including a second opinion by a specialist, radiographs, or laboratory evaluation of the blood or cerebral spinal fluid. It is often difficult to differentiate between a horse with subtle neurologic deficits and those with a subtle lameness. A repeat evaluation at a later date or a second opinion may be helpful.
Examination of Hair Coat and Skin
Problems of the hair coat and skin can range in severity from being just a nuisance to those that can be career limiting or life threatening. Previously removed skin growths may return in several months to several years. Skin testing, skin biopsy and laboratory testing are the only definitive methods of determining the cause and severity of most skin disorders.