Do you have to walk a colicky horse?

Nearly every horse owner has been told that a horse with a painful gut needs to be walked. But is that even true?

Walking a colicky horse into the wee hours of the night seems like an equestrian rite of passage, but is it necessary? The idea that any horse with gut pain must be walked is a persistent horse keeping myth. But the truth is that walking a colicky horse may be helpful in specific situations. And at other times, it could make the situation worse.

When deciding whether to walk a colicky horse, consider the following:

• Many minor colics resolve themselves over a short period of time, no matter what. If the horse will stand or lie quietly in a stall or round pen, remove all hay and water and allow him to rest quietly as you consult with a veterinarian.

Walking a horse isn’t a magical cure for colic and, in some cases, can make the situation worse.

• Sometimes the movement of walking can help “jostle” the gut enough to relieve a minor impaction or trapped gas bubble. The chance of this happening is not related to how long the horse is walked, however. If a horse hasn’t improved after a half-hour of brisk walking, he’s not going to improve with that alone. And if the horse’s pain seems to worsen with walking or if he becomes reluctant to move, do not force it. Call the veterinarian immediately.

• Pain can make even a normally easy-to-handle horse unpredictable and even aggressive. It can be dangerous for the people involved to walk any horse who is in so much pain that he wants to roll. Also, pain at that level indicates that the horse is most likely a surgical candidate, and walking will not help his condition. If you are tempted to walk a horse to stop him from rolling in pain, focus your efforts instead on getting him to a veterinary clinic quickly. Walking a colicky horses must be done with a clear concept of the risk and benefit; talk to your veterinarian (who should be on the way in a case like this) if you have been instructed to walk a horse who may be a risk to your safety.

• Other conditions that look like colic may be made worse by walking. A horse with low-level laminitis, an abscess or lymphangitis, for example, might appear at first to simply have gut pain. Walking these horses will exacerbate their true condition. One way to identify colic look-a-likes is by taking the horse’s temperature: Colic alone is not typically associated with a fever.

This article first appeared in the September 2017 issue of EQUUS (Volume #480)

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