Horses are part of an ever growing industry, with over 600,000 horses in the UK, 1.4 million riders and 5 million people with an active interest in the equine industry*. Most people acquire a horse out of choice, so if you make this decision you should think carefully before going ahead. A horse needs lots of love and care, including regular worming, vaccinations and dental care. Owning a horse is time consuming and can be costly; not only will you will need to consider where you will keep your horse, you must also consider the ongoing costs of owning a horse which include accommodation, bedding, feed and healthcare.

In the unlikely event that your horse goes missing it is going to be very difficult for anyone to know who it belongs to, unless your horse carries some form of permanent identification. It is wise to get your horse microchipped or freezemarked, this will avoid heartache in the long run, should your horse go missing or is stolen.

Horses are herd animals, and thrive on being together with other horses. Don’t forget that your horse will need somewhere to graze, a stable for warmth in the winter time, a constant supply of water, feeding daily and regular exercise. It can cost hundreds of pounds a month to care for a horse, including accommodation, food, veterinary care and insurance; there will be other costs, including buying tack and rugs and extra livery charges when you go on holiday.

Horses can live into their thirties, over this time your horse will need lots of care and attention. Being able to provide all of this will ensure you and your horse make the most of your time together.

* Research conducted in 2004 by the Henley Centre for DEFRA and the British Horse Industry Confederation.

Diagnostic tests

In order to reach a diagnosis when attending to your horse, your vet may need to take some samples such a blood, urine, skin scrapings, biopsies or faeces. If your horse requires further diagnostic tests more samples may be taken such as fluid from the lungs or the abdomen. But what happens to all these samples and how can they help your vet reach a diagnosis?

What tests can be undertaken?

There are many different tests which can be carried out on all the various samples that can be collected.

Tests carried out on fluids such as urine, peritoneal fluid, fluid from the lungs and biopsies taken from lumps and bumps on your horse include cytology, histopathology and bacterial culture.

What is cytology?

Cytology is the study of cells in different tissue fluids.

Each fluid in the body such as blood and urine contains different types of cells which can be examined under the microscope by your vet or a specialist pathologist.

How can cytology help the vet reach a diagnosis?

By looking at the cells present in different fluids your vet can find out a great deal about the organ which produced the fluid or the cavity in which the fluid is found. First of all your vet will make sure that the fluid contains the cells it should contain, then they can see if it contains too many or too few cells, or if there are cells present which shouldn't be there.

For example if your horse has a respiratory disease a sample of fluid from the lungs can be examined and can tell your vet if your horse has an infection or an allergic disease just by looking at which cells are present. The way the cells look and how old they are reveals a lot about the disease process and help your vet pick the correct treatments.

What is histopathology?

Histopathology is the study of the microscopic structure of tissues.

Your vet knows how each tissue in the body should look when examined under a microscope and which cells should be present; therefore, any changes to the normal architecture and disease processes which change the appearance of the tissue can be picked up when examined under the microscope.

How can histopathology help the vet reach a diagnosis?

The most common use of histopathology is for looking at biopsies taken from lumps and bumps. Your vet will have an idea about what may be causing a particular lump but histopathology can help with a precise diagnosis and tell us about the way the lump is interacting with the surrounding tissue.

When the biopsy is taken it is sent to a laboratory where it is cut into smaller pieces and stained with special dyes which allow the pathologist to see the different cells.

Histopathology is particularly helpful in determining if a lump is a benign mass or a malignant tumour and so it helps your vet chose the correct treatment.

What is bacterial culture?

If your vet suspects that your horse has an infection, they may wish to send the samples they take for bacterial culture, ie try and grow bacteria from the sample and see which bacteria are present. In order to grow bacteria from a sample it is placed on a special gel which contains all the nutrients the bacteria might need to grow - some bacteria may take up to a week to grow.

If bacteria does grow from the sample your vet can also test to see which antibiotics will work against that bacteria so that the most appropriate antibiotic can be selected - this is called a sensitivity test.