Equine First Aid: Knowing Normal from Abnormal (Book Excerpt)

For horse owners and others who care for horses, recognizing the differences between what is normal and what is abnormal about them forms the basic foundation for good animal husbandry and veterinary medicine.
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For horse owners and others who care for horses, recognizing the differences between what is normal and what is abnormal about them forms the basic foundation for good animal husbandry and veterinary medicine. Using your powers of observation can be very important for the early recognition of subtle abnormalities.

One of my favorite stories concerned an elderly physician who entered an examination room to see a patient. After a congenial introduction, handshake, and general question on “how do you feel,” the physician proceeded to sit down and write a page and a half of physical examination findings before continuing to evaluate the patient. The surprised patient asked the doctor to explain what he based his initial findings on, since he had not touched him. The physician said he noted such things as body posture, “nature” of the eyes, and manner of speaking–right down to observing that the patient was a smoker by the nicotine stains on his fingers.

I liked that story when I first heard it. It made sense. So from that day on I attempted to improve my powers of observation, both as a veterinarian and as a horseperson. In addition, I used the story to urge my students, clients, and others who spend time with horses to observe them closely, to get more in touch with the animals.

Once your powers of observation have alerted you to a potential problem, it is time to obtain some more objective information about the situation. The best place to start is with a simple physical examination. I believe that all horse owners or caretakers should be able to perform a basic physical examination

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Michael A. Ball, DVM, completed an internship in medicine and surgery and an internship in anesthesia at the University of Georgia in 1994, a residency in internal medicine, and graduate work in pharmacology at Cornell University in 1997, and was on staff at Cornell before starting Early Winter Equine Medicine & Surgery located in Ithaca, New York. He was an FEI veterinarian and worked internationally with the United States Equestrian Team. He died in 2014.

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