You, or whoever cares for your horse on a daily basis, can best assess your horse’s normal demeanor and attitude. Take time to do this in health, so you can more easily identify changes from normal when your horse is not well. In health and in illness, much can be learned from quietly observing your horse for a few minutes from a distance, before moving closer.
Be objective in assessing the horse when they are healthy. Think about how they compare to other horses and how they vary from time to time, and situation to situation. This way you are better able to note the subtle differences when they are ill. Demeanor and attitude are closely related to overall well-being and health.
Always consider whether the horse is medicated when you evaluate them. Certain drugs that temporarily alleviate pain might give you a false impression of wellness.
When you approach your horse's stall or corral, observe them quietly for a few minutes from a distance. What is the horse doing? Consider their normal behavior and their body language. How do they normally eat and drink? Do they regularly roll for comfort or lie down and nap?
How much manure do they usually produce in a 24 hour period? Is all their feed normally gone by a certain time? How long does it take them to eat a small amount of feed?
Is their head in the corner, or is it out over the stall door? Are they watching other horses, or are they disinterested? How do they interact with other horses? With you? Note their facial expressions. Take them in hand for a short walk and observe their behavior. If you observe these things when your horse is in health, you will more easily notice when something is wrong.
When you suspect that your horse is not right, observe them and ask yourself: Is the horse behaving differently from normal? If so, how? Are they showing signs of discomfort or pain? Have they eaten all of their feed? If they are eating, are they eating normally? Are they drinking more or less aggressively than normal?
Are they rolling or lying down more or less? Are they producing more, less or a different consistency of manure? If you take the horse in hand, are they walking with their usual energy, interested in snacking on plants as you walk, or are they slow and dragging on the lead?
Are they interacting any differently with the other horses? Their surroundings? With you?
Tips for safety & Success
Observe your horse from a distance without intruding. Pay attention to detail, because subtle variations can be easily overlooked.
Vets often use a six level scale to assess a horse's attitude: 1. Bright Alert Responsive (BAR); 2. Quiet Alert Responsive (QAR); 3. Quiet; 4. Slightly Depressed; 5. Depressed; 6. Very depressed. You can use any kind of scale or criteria.
Any such framework should help you be more objective in this assessment.