Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Handle Horse with Colic

Being able to properly and safely handling a horse exhibiting signs of abdominal pain (colic) is an important skill. It is equally important to recognize when it is best to leave the horse alone because it is too dangerous to handle.

In my opinion, hand walking primarily gives a horse a place to go and something else to think about other than pain. However, some research indicates that it may increase intestinal movement and function.

A horse in colic pain may exhibit severe signs of pain (rolling, pawing, getting up and down), and in some cases they can suddenly collapse.

You should always FIRST call your vet to inform them that your horse is in colic pain, regardless of whether you want to try to treat for a period of time yourself.

Supplies Needed

Procedure

Halter the horse and always use a lead rope. If possible, move the horse to a large open corral rather than a small stall. Generally, it is best to avoid small or enclosed spaces, obstacles and corners. It's also best to avoid wide open spaces, as a panicked horse in severe pain can occasionally get away from a handler.

If the horse is lying flat or sitting on its chest (sternal) quietly, then let it rest until it is evaluated by your vet.

If the horse is rolling or seems in distress, and you feel confident to handle it, then you may be able to help. Try to get the horse to its feet and start leading briskly and with confidence. Walk in large circles. Keep your outstretched arm as a buffer between the horse's head and your body. This gives you some room if the horse suddenly collapses or lurches forward.

If the horse stops trying to go down and seems to be relaxing, you can stop for a moment to see if the signs are improving. Periodically look at gum color, take heart rate and listen to intestinal motility.

Walking in moderation is good if it is possible and safe to do so, but do not exhaust the horse, and be careful not to have the horse fall on you or paw you!

When handling the horse for the vet, try to stay on the same side as the examining vet. Keep focused, and ask them if there is any special way they want the horse handled to facilitate the exam.

Tips for safety & Success

Be honest with yourself. Do you have the skills to handle your horse under this sort of stress? If not, wait for your vet to arrive. If you handle the horse, use great caution. Alert others at the facility that you will be handling the horse, in case something happens.

Currently, there no evidence to support the "trailer ride" cure. In my opinion it can be a life-threatening waste of time to load a horse and drive them around in a trailer without seeking veterinary guidance. If you are going to drive anywhere, drive to your vet.

Always stay to the side of the horse as you lead it, and at the shoulder. Do not stand in front. Keep alert as some horses will suddenly drop to the ground when they experience a stab of pain.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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