When a horse is sick or ill from injury, recovery is much accelerated by careful and sympathetic nursing. However indifferent a horse may be to caressing or kind attention during health, when ill he certainly appreciates them, and when in pain will often apparently endeavour to attract notice and seek relief from those with whom he is acquainted. Therefore it is that kindness and careful nursing will sometimes do more in effecting recovery than drugs and medical attendance. Fresh air and cleanliness, quiet and comfort, are always to be allowed, if possible. The stable or loose box should be warm without being close, and free from draughts. If the weather is cold, and especially if the horse be suffering from disease of the air passages, it may be necessary to maintain the warmth by artificial means, though care should be taken that this does not render the air too dry to breathe. The surface of the body can be kept warm by rugs, and the legs by woollen bandages; yet it must be remembered that a sick horse is easily fatigued and annoyed by too much clothing, and therefore it is better to resort to artificial heating of the stable than to overload the body or impede movement, by heavy clothing. If blankets must be used, should the horse have an irritable skin, it is well to place a cotton or linen sheet innermost.
For bedding, long straw should be employed as little as possible, as it hampers movement. Clean old litter, sawdust, or moss litter, are the best. If the hoofs are strong, and the horse likely to be confined for some weeks, it affords relief to take off the shoes. Tying up should be avoided, if possible, unless it is urgently required, the horse being allowed to move about or lie down, as he may prefer.
With regard to food, a sick horse, if the appetite is lost, should be tempted to eat by offering him that which is enticing. It should be given frequently, and in small quantities, but not forced on him; and it often happens that food will be taken if offered from the hand, when it will not be eaten out of the manger. Whether fed out of a bucket or a manger, any that is left should be thrown away, and the receptacle well cleaned out after each meal. As a rule, during sickness a horse requires laxative food, in order to allay fever or inflammatory symptoms, while supporting the strength. The following list comprises the usual good laxative food employed: - Green grass, green wheat, green oats, green barley, lucerne, carrots, parsnips, gruel, bran mash, linseed and bran mash, boiled barley, linseed tea, hay tea, and linseed-oil. Green grass, lucerne, and similar articles of food, should be dried before being given, if cut when in a wet state. Boiled grain should be cooked with as little water as possible, so that it may be floury and comparatively dry when ready; a little salt should be mixed with it.
One gallon of good gruel may be made from a pound of meal, which should be thrown into cold water, set on the fire and stirred till boiling, and afterwards permitted to simmer over a gentle fire till the water is quite thick.
To make a bran mash, scald a stable bucket, throw out the water, put in three pounds of bran and one ounce of salt; add two-and-a-half pints of boiling water; stir up well, cover over, and allow the mash to stand for fifteen or twenty minutes until it is well cooked.
For a bran and linseed mash, boil slowly, for two or three hours, one pound of linseed, so as to have about a couple of quarts of thick fluid, to which two pounds of bran and one ounce of salt may be added. The whole should be stirred up, covered over, and allowed to steam, as before described. The thicker the mash, the readier will the horse eat it.
Linseed tea is made by boiling one pound of linseed in a couple of gallons of water, until the grains are quite soft. It may be economically made by using less water to cook the linseed, and afterwards making up the quantity of water to about a gallon and a half.
Hay tea may be prepared by filling a bucket, after scalding it, with good sweet hay, pouring in as much boiling water as the bucket will hold, covering it over, and allowing it to stand until cold, when the fluid may be strained off and given to the horse. This forms a refreshing drink.
Linseed-oily in quantities of from one quarter to half a pint daily, may be mixed through the food. It keeps the bowels in a lax condition, has a good effect on the skin and air passages, and is useful as an article of diet.
When debility has to be combated, as in low fever or other weakening diseases, strengthening and easily digested food must be administered; though some of the food already mentioned, such as boiled grain, answers this purpose to a certain extent. Milk, eggs, bread and biscuits, malt liquor, corn, etc., are often prescribed with this object. Milk may be given skimmed or unskimmed; a little sugar may be mixed in it, and one or two gallons of it may be given daily, according to circumstances. One or two eggs may be given beaten up with a little sugar, and mixed with milk, three or four times a day, or more frequently; or they may be boiled hard and powdered, and mixed in the milk. A quart of stout, ale, or porter, may be given two or three times a day, or a half to one bottle of port wine daily. Scalded oats, with a little salt added, are very useful when convalescence is nearly completed.
With regard to water, as a rule a sick horse should have as much as he likes to drink, though it may be necessary in certain cases to give a limited quantity, and to have the chill taken off; but it should never be warmer than seventy-five to eighty degrees.
As for grooming, as little of this as possible should be allowed when a horse is very weak; and it should be limited to sponging about the mouth, nostrils, eyes, and forehead, with clean water, to which a little vinegar may be added; hand-rub the legs and ears; take off the clothing, and shake or change it once a day; and, if agreeable, rub over the body with a soft cloth.
Exercise, of course, is not required during sickness or injury, and the period at which it is allowed will depend upon circumstances. Care must be taken that it is not ordered too early, or carried too far at first.