How to Care for a Sick or Injured Horse

close up of horse face with rope halter - how to care for a sick or injured horse

Horse riders and breeders aren’t the only ones experiencing a pandemic right now. An outbreak of the equine herpesvirus (EHV-1) is sweeping across Europe, having claimed 17 horses and infected a hundred more since it began in late February. Unrelated outbreaks have popped up in places like Florida and the Greater Toronto Area. Countries are taking these events very seriously.

So should you, if you’re a horse rider, owner or breeder. 

Horses and their human handlers are similar in many ways, from having close to the same number of bones to their immune system. It’s still unknown if horses can get SARS-CoV-2, but they can suffer from EHV-1 and other equine diseases. And like human athletes, horses are very prone to injury.

Losing your noble steed to disease or injury is a distressing experience. If your horse is beyond saving, it deserves the best final journey through horse cremation services and other equine funeral functions. However, there are plenty of ways to nurture horses back to full health so that it doesn’t come to that.

Your veterinarian will have given you a recovery plan with specific directions about feed and medication schedules, signs to watch out for and any rehab exercises you need to complete. In addition, here are some things you can do around the barn to care for your horse’s wellbeing as you follow the road to recovery.

Create An Infection Control Plan

The first order of business should be drawing up a plan to improve the horse’s immunity and lessen its exposure. The American Association of Equine Practitioners calls this an infection control plan.

The first part involves enlisting the aid of a veterinarian for creating a vaccination schedule for the horse. While some equine diseases can’t be treated this way, vaccines are still essential for building the horse’s overall resistance. The vet may also address issues that exert undue stress on the horse, such as living and transportation conditions.

The second part requires taking a good look at the farm or stable for anything that may be making your horse ill. Cleaning out their quarters weekly, securing their feed storage from rats, and getting rid of potential mosquito nests contribute to the animals’ welfare. Again, consult a vet to determine the right way to house your horse, especially after returning from a show or race.

Choose Your Feeds Carefully

horse looking out of stall - how to care for a sick or injured horse

If your horse has been ill or
injured, they will most likely remain confined in the stables until they make a full recovery. You won’t be able to take them out for some exercise, which may result in their gaining weight over time. And, even if you can take them out, it’ll probably be to get them started on a rehab program, which could involve many weeks of short walks only.

Adjusting a horse’s usual diet to account for its temporary sedentary lifestyle can go a long way. The nutrient requirements of an ill or injured steed, mainly calories and protein, will differ from the requirements of a healthy horse. Like humans, protein is a crucial nutrient for recovering horses, as their immune system uses it to produce antibodies. 

Grass hay is a good start as horses digest this forage slowly, preventing them from gaining calories too fast. You can also mix alfalfa hay or pellets (up to 1% of the horse’s weight) into the forage to provide them a great source of calcium and protein. Depending on their excrement, you may need to add moist bran or vegetable oil, even cut back on grain wherever possible.

Keep Your Horse Entertained

Horses experience stress just as humans do, especially when restricted to their stalls. You wouldn’t want for your horse’s disease to run rampant around the farm, but you also wouldn’t want to keep it locked up without company. The disease itself is already giving it unnecessary stress.

Fortunately, the symptoms of stress are relatively easy to spot in plain sight. To name a few:

  • Yawning several times in a row

  • Trembling before a vet or farrier

  • Bolting or eating forage too fast

  • Gnawing at fences or doors

  • Grinding their teeth when stabled

  • Defecating a lot within a given time

You can mitigate stress in many ways, among which are a few already discussed in this piece: feeding them the right way and getting their vaccines on schedule. Keeping the horse entertained with some activities also helps immensely. Spend time with them, grooming them or even teaching them new tricks. Offer flavored treats (like a salt lick) or stall toys. Keep them in a location where they can see other horses, if that doesn’t overexcite them. Make sure their stalls always have hay—all these and more will stimulate their mind.


Should your horse fall ill, these tips can help them regain their strength. But, you don’t have to wait for them to get sick before taking action. Apart from their grace on the field or the track, the horse is a delicate creature. They deserve as much care as you can provide to help them do what you need them to, whether showing them off or riding with them toward the sunset.

By Edward Garnet

Edward Garnet is a horse cremation specialist. He has been in the industry for over three decades. He shares his knowledge through guest blogging. Edward enjoys playing chess and gardening in his free time.

Feature image: Victor Grabarczyk; Image 1: Frank Grün


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