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Elements of a Sound Horse

Reprinted from

Horse health depends on several factors. You can promote horse soundness with simple preventive care measures. Horses require proper farrier care, nutrition, exercise and turnout. By optimizing these factors, you can limit horse health concerns. Learn steps you can take to keep your horse healthy and sound for riding.

Proper Care for Horse Body Parts

Certain parts of a horse's body are more susceptible to injury than others. The legs, hooves and back need the most attention. You can take specific precautions to prevent injuries and support strong, healthy body parts.


Horses spend most of their lives standing, and leg injuries are quite common. When a horse stumbles or lands in an awkward position, it can cut its leg with the hoof or strain a tendon. Tramping around on hard ground every day can lead to weakened leg bones or arthritis. Leg injuries can have serious implications — they can take months or years to heal or never heal at all. Horse lameness is often a result of a leg injury. To keep your horse's legs fit and sound, you can take several preventive measures, including:

  • Put on splint boots before you jump or gallop. Many leg injuries occur when a horse's back legs overreach, cutting the front legs. A pair of splint boots can prevent this from happening.

  • Keep the ground soft. Constant pounding on hard ground has adverse effects. Rake or drag dirt often, and get out into grassy fields when possible.

  • Keep up with shoeing and trimming. Check your horse's shoes often and address any issues as soon as possible.

  • Pay attention to the legs. Every day, feel your horse's legs, checking for lumps or wounds. If you notice any issues, contact a veterinarian. You can reduce swelling with cold water until the veterinarian arrives.

  • Always warm-up and cool-down. Before and after exercise, always allow your horse a chance to walk for a few minutes. Just as humans need to stretch before and after a run, horses need time for a warm-up and cool-down.


Hooves are also a sensitive part of a horse's body. Genetic factors play a role — some breeds have naturally healthier hooves than others. However, proper farrier care, diet and exercise have a huge influence. Regular trims and inspections, a rounded diet and a thoughtful exercise schedule contribute to horse hoof health. Learn more about farrier care best practices below, as well as proper diet and exercise.

You can also take other measures to support healthy hooves. It's important to note excess moisture can lead to abscesses, cracking or white line disease. Constantly wet hooves can weaken and soften. Too much variation between wetness and dryness can cause hooves to become brittle. Use a drainage system to avoid puddles, or offer your horses high ground to get away from the mud. You can also apply a hoof sealant to help retain a healthy amount of moisture and protect the hoof.


Back pain is a common concern for horse owners. If a horse flinches or lowers its back against pressure, it might be experiencing back issues. In extreme cases, a horse might buck or rear when you approach the back. Back pain can be the result of arthritis, ligament damage, "kissing spine" or inflammation. To avoid back problems:

  • Set aside time for warm-ups and stretching.

  • Always use a mounting block.

  • Make sure your saddle sits straight, not twisting as you ride.

  • Improve your core strength as the rider.

  • Work each rein the same amount.

Proper Farrier Care

Hoof care is one of the most important elements of keeping a horse sound. Healthy hooves make for healthy horses, while degraded hooves make for unhealthy horses. Take these measures to promote strong hooves:

  • Schedule frequent farrier visits.

  • Pick mud, sticks and rocks out of your horse's feet each day.

  • Minimize mud and ice to promote hoof-friendly footing.

  • Rely on professional farriers for horse-shoeing.

  • Start hoof care early — get foals accustomed to standing still and lifting their legs for a farrier.

Nutrition for a Sound Horse

A balanced diet makes a huge difference for horse health, as it does for any species. Provide nourishing feed and allow constant access to clean water. A healthy horse might drink more than 15 gallons of water throughout each day. Drinking enough clean water is vital for a horse's digestive health. In the winter, make sure the water is warm and ice-free. Horses stop drinking water for many reasons. If this happens consider using "Horse Quencher” it is sure to help your horse drink and keep them hydrated. Along with water, supply a wholesome feed. Pay close attention to your feed's ingredients. Along with water, supply a wholesome feed. Pay close attention to your feed's ingredients. Make sure it contains a healthy balance of nutritional categories, including:

  • Carbohydrates: Fiber, sugar and starch are all important types of carbs. In a horse's diet, most carbohydrates come from hay. A horse's cecum and colon have microorganisms that break down the carbohydrates in hay, producing energy.

  • Proteins: Proteins contribute to muscle, hair and hoof development. Protein needs depend on age and workload. Growing foals, pregnant mares and horses with heavy workloads require the most protein. Note that legume hays are higher in protein than grass hays.

  • Fats: Fat is easy to digest and produces a lot of energy. If you add fat supplements to your horse's diet, be sure to meet all the other nutritional needs, not only the energy needs.

  • Vitamins and minerals: Proper vitamin and mineral intake can fend off health issues. Only add supplements when necessary, as too much vitamin or mineral concentration can cause toxicity concerns.

Best Horse Exercise Practices

Horses need daily exercise. Improved strength increases resiliency and reduces the risk of injury. Work with your veterinarian to devise a healthy exercise routine for your horse, which will depend on sex, age, work demands and other factors. Always leave time before and after exercising for a warm-up and cool-down. As your horse exercises, use a heart rate monitor — a healthy range during exercise is 130 to 150 beats per minute. Remember, strength conditioning takes time. Stay patient and prioritize your horse's health rather than its performance.

Best Turnout Practices

Adequate turnout time is vital for any horse's wellbeing. Horses have a sleeping and eating schedule different from humans' — they sleep in sporadic "power naps" and graze throughout all hours of the day. Over-confinement can lead to numerous health issues and psychological concerns, including boredom and frustration.

During turnout, make sure your horses have access to shelter when they need it. Provide plenty of shade for the hotter days. On windy days, consider using eye covers to protect your horse's eyes from debris. If bugs are an issue, use a fly mask. You may or may not choose to use turnout blankets, depending on your horse's breed and the severity of your region's winter. Try to keep the ground mud and ice-free to minimize the risk of injury. Keep in mind that a horse can tolerate cold temperatures as long as its coat is dry.

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