Evaluating how sound your horse is is very important when it comes to planning training sessions an determining how we want to use the horse.
Whether that’s riding or any other kind of occupation, including the way we keep them.
Sound does also mean more than just not being lame.
It means how content, happy, comfortable and willing is your horse.
And when you ask yourself these question with your horse in mind, try to keep out the “but that’s just how he is” part because unfortunately, it often isn’t.
Any behavior that differs from “the norm” (and yes this word has a side note) is first and foremost a sign to get aware and look for causes instead of making it a personality trait and dismissing it.
When we look for soundness, we analyze the horse from toe to ears. From inside to outside.
How are the hooves?
Are they healthy and balanced?
From the hooves up, the joints, ligaments and muscles as well as the blood flow and blood health and ability to move and perform depend on them. It’s not a luxury to have good hooves that are trimmed regularly and in a good shape. It’s mandatory. It’s the foundation. Literally.
Any issues with the hooves need to be addressed first and immediately. It’s most likely a horse with bad hooves is more or less visibly lame.
How is the muscle tonus and awareness?
Are there muscles to begin with, especially in the back? Muscles need to develop before we use them and put a tree on them and then go sit on them. Being ridden is a high demanding sport and athletes need to have the right muscles before they can perform.
Which muscles are more apparent than others? Where do you need to work on? Can the muscles also relax and how sensitive are they to touch and pressure? Has the horse muscle awareness in his whole body? Can you ask for movement in single body parts?
That’s all trainable and useful for groundwork which comes before riding in all disciplines and schools. Take the time to get in toch with the body of your horse.
How are the guts?
Any sign for gastric discomfort needs to be taking seriously. The most common signs are visible during saddling and girthing (cinching).
A pain free horse stands calm and does not nip, bite, clinch the jaw, nods, stamps or pins its ears when being saddle.
These horses need treatment physically and psychologically.
Any other signs like kicking the belly or looking and nipping to their belly or flanks are alarming as well.
Also the quality of poop determines if you need to get into action, like watery poop or fluids after the poop are the most common signs for feeding mistakes.
Is the coat soft and shiny?
A dull coat or even bald spots can be a sign for sickness, lack of minerals, or a low immune system and therefore a risk for bacteria, mold and parasites.
Is the horse not too fat nor too thin?
We need to relearn to see what a healthy body index means for horses in our rich and grassy green countries. Showing the ribs lightly is not being too thin. Pointy hips and pencil thin necks however can be alarming. On the other hand, a barrel belly and heart shaped hips as well as cresty necks are way more dangerous for the horses health. Learn to the see the difference between well developed muscles versus fat.
Are there any heavy fluids coming out of eyes or nostrils?
Does the horse display comfort behaviors like grooming, rolling (over), sleeping laying down, having friends and being able to forage freely 24/7?
Does the horse have soft eyes with no wrinkles around them?
Does the horse stays or even comes to you when you go to get it?
Does the horse navigate the world calm and confident?
Is the horse forward under saddle with a relaxed and healthy headset without needing to force any of it?
Is the horse actively listening to you and are you actively listening to the horse?
If any of those questions popped up with a nagging feeling in your head, it’s your sign to get in action and help your horse become more sound.
There are plenty more ressources to evaluate your horses health and happiness. You can read on here on my blog, enrol in my online learning or book private consultations for your specific situation. Always feel free to contact me.