When you assess an injured area look and feel for swelling, heat, and any other change in appearance, as well as a pain reaction to touch or pressure. It is always useful to compare the normal (unaffected) side to the affected side noting any differences. If this is not possible, compare the injured area to the same area on a similar horse.
Halter the horse. If you have a helper, they should be at the head of your horse standing on the same side as the injured area is located. First simply evaluate the area without touching it, and answer these questions:
1. Where specifically is the problem located?
2. When did I first notice it?
3. Is there swelling? (Compare with the same anatomy on the other side.)
4. Does this area appear different from the same area on the other side of the horse? If so, how?
5. Is your horse lame and, if so, does it appear to be associated with this injured area?
6. Does the horse seem ill otherwise (perform the Whole Horse Exam).
7. Can a photo be taken that will demonstrate the appearance of the problem?
There is a real art to feeling an area that hurts or appears abnormal. Make contact with the horse, starting far from the injured area. When you are feeling a painful leg, always first touch high on the body. Then gradually and gently slide your hands closer to the injury noting whether the horse reacts. Show the horse that you will not hurt or surprise them. If the horse withdraws, maintain contact.
If the horse stands and allows contact, reward by withdrawing before again moving toward the area. If you are able to touch the injured area, withdraw once to reward the horse, then return and press the area gently with your fingers, feeling the more normal adjacent area. Then answer these questions:
1. Is the skin of the area warm or hot? (Compare with other side.)
2. Is the area swollen or enlarged?
2. Is the area firm, hard or soft? Describe how it feels? Does it feel like dough, an inflated ball, a water or air filled balloon, the meat of your arm? Something else?
3. Does the horse appear to be in pain or discomfort when you touch or press on the area?
Tips for safety & Success
Always have the horse stand as squarely as possible, on the most level and firm surface you can find. Subtle changes in posture can make joints and other anatomy look and feel markedly different. Always use good light. Use all your senses in gathering information so you can better describe the problem to your vet.
The back of your hand is excellent, and sensitive for detecting changes in heat.
When evaluating a lump or bump, evaluate for size, texture, consistency (hard or soft) the presence of pain, heat, the mobility of the mass (whether or not it can be moved within the tissues), how well defined the bump is within the tissues.