Labored Breathing in Horses

Sometimes when we come across our horses in pasture we may notice them breathing a bit hard or deeply. In some cases this could be that they are winded and just finished run or something. Perhaps some playing with another horse has them active and trying to catch their breath. In other cases labored breathing could possibly be confused for sniffing something out or some form of excitement like fear or concern, related to snorting. If you’re quite sure that your horse hasn’t got any of the above situations going on, then your horse likely has labored breathing.

Labored breathing can be subtle or very obvious depending on what is going on with the horse. Here is a great example when viewing the horse as to what they would look like if they are breathing in a labored way:

I explain in the above video why this horse has labored breathing, but to also explain here; this horse unfortunately had a very serious abscess in one of her front feet. When pain is great enough that a horse has labored breathing, it’s pretty much time to call the vet if you haven’t already. If you are savvy about horse health and understand what is going on then a vet may not be required, but it’s very important to figure out what is happening. In this case it was obvious, an abscess is hard to hide when the horse is in this much pain, but in many cases it’s colic.

Colic is usually very painful to a horse and many die from it being untreated or not managed. Some get through it without anything, but most need help. Either way, the first clue is usually labored breathing. Once spotted it’s important to take a good look all over your horse to see if anything is visible. A puncture wound or abscess will be obvious, colic may not be but the horse may be standing “odd”. These are all clues to figure out what could be causing your horse enough pain to be breathing so heavily.

If you see a horse with flaring nostrils, deep breathing and looking exerted despite not having moved much at all, then you are seeing a horse in pain. Get a vet or somebody familiar with looking at horses to check the horse out and help them as this is the usually the first and best clue to seeing something is wrong.

In comparison, here is a horse that is just relaxed and breathing normally: