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Colic is an umbrella term used to describe clinical signs of abdominal pain or discomfort in a horse or pony. It is a word that many of us are all too familiar with because colic is not only a common condition, it is also the biggest cause of death in horses worldwide.

There are six broad categories covering the types of colic seen: spasmodic, tympanic (flatulent or gassy), impaction, sand, displacement and strangulation.


Signs to look out for:

  • Lying down more than usual, or trying to lie down

  • Rolling

  • Unexplained sweating

  • Walking in circles or around the stable

  • Reduced appetite

  • Passing no or very few droppings

  • Change in consistency of droppings

  • Pain shown by flank watching, pawing or kicking at the belly

  • Dull and depressed in character

  • Lowered head position

  • Increased heart rate

  • Reduced or no gut sounds

  • Change in the colour of gums from pale pink to very red or blue/purple

  • Increased breathing rate


This is not an exhaustive list, so be mindful of other signs that may indicate your horse is in pain or uncomfortable. As a rule, it is useful to know your horse’s normal TPR rates (temperature, pulse and respiration) so that if you suspect they are off colour you can check to see if there is any difference in their vital signs.



If you suspect your horse or pony has colic, phone the vet immediately. Colic is an emergency so a vet will need to come and see your horse as soon as possible.

How they treat your horse will depend on the type and severity of the colic. The most common treatments will initially involve pain relief, usually after the vet has examined your horse. This examination might include a rectal examination. A nasogastric intubation (stomach tubing) may also be performed. Sometimes referral to an equine veterinary hospital is needed should your horse require more specialist treatment.


  • Ensure plenty of forage in your horse’s diet

  • Keep to regular feeding times

  • The introduction of any changes to diet must be gradual

  • Feed hard feed little and often

  • Do not feed grass clippings or unsoaked sugar beet

  • Ensure a fresh supply of water is always available

  • Avoid sandy grazing if possible

  • Have a good worming programme in place

  • Have regular dental checks

  • Avoid changing any regular routines, such as paddock versus stable time

  • Try to stop your horse eating excess bedding

  • Do not feed your horse prior to hard exercise

  • Do not feed your horse immediately after exercise

  • Warm up and cool down your horse when schooling

The above covers a very small section of information about a huge subject, but it should give a broad idea of what colic is, what to look out for and how to help your horse. Remember, if you are ever in doubt, call your vet.

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