Tired or in Trouble?

Q.I find my 13-year-old gelding lying down a lot—much more frequently than the other horses in the barn. He doesn’t seem to be in pain or distress, but I wonder why a horse would do this so much. What are some signs that he’s not just resting and that I need to call my vet?

—Andrea, via email

A.Good for you for noticing this subtle issue. Catching things early commonly prevents small issues from turning into significant ones.

If you observe that your horse is spending more time down than he used to, it’s probably worth a nonemergency visit from your veterinarian to make sure everything is fine. He might simply be a smart napper, which is a good attribute!

However, if his “downtime” is new, increasing, or excessive, the behavior is worth investigating sooner. It’s somewhat hard to quantify what “normal” downtime is, because each horse is unique. But your observation that it’s much more frequent than his barn buddies is relevant.

I would ask your veterinarian to do a full physical exam and evaluate all of his systems—cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal, neurologic, and musculoskeletal—to make sure he hasn’t developed a new condition. I would also run a basic blood screen. A complete blood count, chemistry, and fibrinogen are good places to start to rule out any possible low-grade infection, significant inflammation, or organ compromise. When your veterinarian is there, jog your horse and maybe longe or ride him to make sure lameness isn’t a factor. Sometimes when horses have sore feet or are starting to develop mild laminitis, they spend more time lying down than is normal.