Recognizing the 6 Signs of Equine Distress

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Having a horse gives you the opportunity to get to know what his normal is like. Is he usually very chatty or is he typically more of a standoffish horse by nature? Is he first to greet you for dinner at the gate or does he usually bring up the rear when everyone is coming in to eat? Knowing what your horse’s normal disposition and behavior looks like can really clue you in to when he is nervous or has something on his mind.

Signs of Distress to Watch For


Being A Loner

If your horse is known around the barn as a friend to all but is seen trying to lay low and stay away from everyone else, give your vet a call. Your equine pal may be feeling under the weather and be choosing to distance himself from his buddies.


Knowing if your horse naturally runs a bit on the warm or cold side can be beneficial in knowing if he is battling a fever. If you aren’t sure of your horse’s regular temperature, an easy way to know if he is dealing with a fever is to take his temperature. A temperature greater than 102 indicates that your horse’s body is battling a sickness and he needs to be seen by a doctor. 

Down Time and Lethargy   

Horses can lay down and be completely healthy but if you notice your horse is spending longer amounts of time laying down he may have something going on. Another sign that something is wrong is sudden lethargy. * Note that constant laying down and getting up or constant rolling may be a sign of colic and warrants a vet visit due to emergency.

Gum Color

You probably don’t check your horse’s gums very often unless you think maybe his teeth are bothering him but the gums can be an easy way to tell if your horse is in distress. Horse gums are usually a healthy pink color like ours. Should you find your horse has red or purple gums, give the vet a call right away. These can be a sign that the horse is struggling with severe dehydration or endotoxemia related to poisoning from toxic plants.


Is your horse avoiding his breakfast or standing out in a luscious field of grass without showing any interest in stuffing his face? Any dietary changes that happen suddenly and out of the blue with your horse are worth noting and bringing up to your veterinarian. 

Sudden Lameness

A sudden severe lameness that makes it seem like your horse is walking on lava is worth looking into. Is he refusing to put any weight on one of his hooves? Is his leg dangling? Is there a single leg that looks to be twice the size of the others? None of this is normal and needs to be checked out.

Carolina Equine Hospital

Do you have a feeling that your horse may be in distress? Has someone at your barn called and let you know that your horse was acting funny? Give us a call, week days or weekends and we can come and evaluate your horse. We have an emergency vet on call 24/7 and we service equines of the Piedmont Triad Area.