Infrared Thermometer Use For Horses
Anyone who knows me is well aware that I am a big worrier about my horses’ soundness and wellbeing. Maybe too much. I always envision worst case scenario and stress about little things more than most people would. I do a quick check of everyone’s legs and pick hooves daily. Before hauling out for a conditioning ride I longe the horse in a small circle for a minute to make sure they are moving sound. I ice and wrap legs after endurance rides, then do a mini lameness eval when we get home to be aware of any minor issues that may be brewing before they become big issues. If a horse is moving stiff after a ride but not necessarily lame, they will get an extra week or more off. (They automatically get 1 week off after 25 miles, and 2 weeks off after 50 miles) My poor husband gets to participate in mini lameness evals regularly just to have a baseline on all the horses. If one doesn’t feel as enthusiastic as usual or is running a high heart rate on a conditioning ride or prefers one canter lead over the other when they are usually equal? That’s right, mini lameness eval. Prevention is easier than treatment when it comes to horses!
A bit over the top? Yes, probably. But I would rather find something minute that will respond to a bit of rest than let it snowball into something significant that will mean several months off or the end of an athletic career.
(Of course none of this was able to help me avoid all of the ridiculous bad luck that has been affecting my herd this year… I’m pretty sure I’m cursed… but I do wonder how much worse it all could have been without my careful monitoring and catching problems early… like Ink’s suspsenory injury – thanks to my ridiculous excessive monitoring, I know exactly when the injury happened and am certain she was sound before that bad step, so she was able to start rest immediately and didn’t continue working with a low grade injury which may have made it worse)
Part of my tool kit for evaluating these minor potential concerns is a high quality infrared thermometer. My husband gave me a really nice industrial quality version that he uses in his line of work, but a normal quality thermometer would work too. This Fluke Infrared Thermometer is the same brand as mine. You could also use a less expensive option, like this one, which may not be quite as accurate but will still give you useful information.
It is easy to use: just point at the area of concern and squeeze the trigger. It reads the temperature of that exact location. Scan the area, noting any hot areas and the average temp of that region, then scan the same location on the other side of the horse and compare the readings. They should be very similar. If the outside of the left hock is 10 degrees warmer than the outside of the right hock, you probably have some sort of trouble brewing there. That doesn’t mean it is something serious, it could just be a scrape or bruise, but resting for a week as a precaution is always a good idea when in doubt. In that case, I would scan the area daily or every couple days, then once the temp was equal I would probably give a few more days off for good measure, then back to work. Assuming the horse is sound, of course. I also use ice boots on legs with any warm areas, because it is quick and easy, it might help and certainly won’t hurt.
Keep in mind variables like black legs in the sun will be warmer. The readings on one location will vary thoughout the day, so it is often best to compare to the corresponding location on the other side rather than compare to previous readings. Of course in the case of laminitis in BOTH front feet, comparing readings won’t work. So it is also good to have a general idea of what is normal, keeping in mind it will read lower in cold weather, etc…
It is useful for legs, hooves, wounds… you name it.
Of course not all injuries register heat at the surface, so if you are worried about something being not quite right with your horse, don’t assume all is well just because you couldn’t find any heat. It is just one more tool in the tool box, and is certainly more accurate than “well, it sort of feels warm, but I’m not really sure” when you call the vet.