What Is a Sound Horse?

The soundness of a horse has nothing to do with its whinny

Two brown horses running through a pasture

wsfurlan / E+ / Getty Images

The term soundness or "a sound horse" does not refer to a creature's whinny, it refers to the overall health of the animal. A sound horse is one that has no lameness or illness. When purchasing a horse, it is a good idea to have a veterinarian check the animal's soundness.

Lameness or Illness

Lameness is one of the most common health issues for horses. A horse with lameness means that it has difficulty walking. There are degrees of lameness, which range from difficult to observe to a complete inability to walk. While lameness can be a sign of trouble in the legs, it can also indicate issues in another part of the body. Many common horse ailments can cause lameness in horses. Severe lameness in a horse can be fatal

Vets will also examine the horse for any hereditary illnesses such as cataracts or bone spavin. These types of hereditary illnesses can limit a horse's usefulness when it comes to breeding and reproduction. However, these kinds of hereditary issues may matter less to someone in need of a workhorse as opposed to a breeder. 

Determining Soundness

A sound horse is considered close to perfect. Few horses truly fit this description and if so will only be for a few years of life. This does not mean that a horse that is a little past its peak is no longer a good investment. A horse that is labeled as practically or serviceably sound is capable of regular work for the horse's class but may have some health issues. It is important to understand horse classes before assessing soundness since what an owner requires from a sound racehorse will be inherently different from a field horse. 

Checking Soundness at Home

While a trained veterinarian is the best person to assess the soundness of a horse, there are some warning signs you may observe that tell you an educated, veterinary opinion is necessary.

  • Head: Asymmetry in the face muscles can indicate a dental issue as can signs of teeth grinding.
  • Neck and back: Run your hands along the horse's neck and back along its spine. Check for signs of swelling or inflammation. Does the horse have a limited range of motion along its neck, turning its head or raising it up or down?
  • Legs: Run your hands down one leg, and then compare it to its opposite leg. If you notice any heat or swelling, those are classic signs of injury, but sensitivity to your touch is also an indicator of a problem.
  • Hooves: Look for cracks in the hoof wall. Hooves should land evenly, not toe first or one side before the other. Horseshoes should also wear down evenly. Use hoof testers. Reactions in certain areas may point out problems like bruising or an abscess.

While not every cause of lameness will be hereditary or untreatable, it's best to know in advance, before making an expensive purchase.  

Keep Your Horse Sound

Keeping a horse sound can take a lot of work. That usually means a lot of your time and attention observing the horse and providing it ample care. There are several things to do to increase your chances of keeping your horse sound:

  • Timely foot care: You will need a regular schedule, like every four to six weeks between trims or shoeing.
  • Constant checkup: Do quick body checks of your horse daily. Catching something quickly usually can lead to a quicker recovery.
  • Maintain a healthy weight for your horse: Do not let your horse get fat. The extra weight can put undue stress on the joints.
  • Warm up: Just like humans need to warm up before exercise or running to prevent muscle sprains or strains, so do horses.
  • Turn out your horse: In general, horses living outside in the fresh air with room to move are healthier.