Jolly reminded me tonight, of why it is always important to run your hands over your horse daily. Whether or not you ride or even groom your horse daily, a brief run down with the palms of your hands can give you a lot of information about that horse's condition. In the Winter time, I make it a habit to run my hands across my horses' barrels to check for weight loss which may not be visible under a heavy hair coat. However, that tactile inspection is just as important in the Summertime.
I took a few seconds tonight to run my hands over Jolly's coat and noticed he had finally decided it was a good idea to shed out the last of his Winter hair (Jolly is 31 years old and slowing down in a lot of aspects) so I got out his curry comb and tackled what was left of his shaggy-ness. As the hair flew (and dirt and dried sweat and dandruff) and I worked my way back to his hindquarters *queasiness alert - anyone with a low threshold for yucky stuff might want to skip ahead* I noticed a wretched smell and a rough patch at the top of his croup. Further inspection revealed an old bite wound that had scabbed over and underneath the scab was a congealed mess of puss. Ew.
It wasn't a big deal, I scrubbed it out, cleaned it up and dressed it with some ointment. It was relatively superficial so he will be just fine. It was a good reminder to not be in too much of a hurry when going through the motions of daily handling. I always do a visual once-over of each horse that I handle during the day, checking eyes, noses, legs, and general demeanor for any signs of trouble but it's the touch that tells so much more.
I did not see the goopy mess on Jolly's croup because it was above eye level, but also camouflaged under hair and dirt. To be all NCIS about it, it was the smell of the thing that I noticed first, but even without that, I would have found it with my fingers anyway. Grosser that way, but it would have happened.
Regardless of which of the senses discovers something amiss with your horse first, your fingers can be very forthcoming with needed information directly afterward. If you find a swollen leg, exploration via touch will give you vital information. Does the swelling "pit", or leave an indentation when you press into it? Is it cool or hot? Is there crust or peeling skin associated? Does the horse flinch to the touch? Is there a wound (possibly hidden under the hair and dirt and harboring some nasty goo)?
Your fingers will tell you the condition of a horse's skin and coat - is it greasy? Dry? Itchy? Rough? Sticky? If he has lumps and bumps on his skin - are they crusty? Symmetrical? Itchy? Smooth? Hot? Oozing? If your horse is lame, you can check for heat in the hoof or digital pulses. You fingers are needed to check the heart rate by timing the pulse in the jaw. You can press the horse's gums with your fingertips to get a capillary refill time. A horse's ears will very often be hot when it has a fever. If you are so inclined, you can check your horse's teeth to see if they are loose, have sharp edges or may in fact be missing. If you are not inclined, you can use your fingers to dial the phone and call the equine dentist.
Not only are your hands important diagnostic tools but they communicate information to the horse as well. From a touch, the horse can tell if you are timid, angry, excited or weary. Giving the horse a hearty scratch along the neck and over the withers is an excellent way to make friends or soothe an agitated horse. Pressure from our hands is way of asking the horse to move forward, backward, sideways, lift a leg or lower his head. If your horse does not respond to that pressure, you use your fingers to dial the phone and call the horse trainer. My number is in the book.