Colic in horses is like a bad stomach ache. It is primarily caused by problems with their gastrointestinal tract but occasionally pain from another abdominal organ or even a disease with colic like symptoms.
Colic is an external sign of an internal problem which can have many causes. In simple cases feed matter may block the intestine but in serious cases the bowel can become displaced and twisted which affects the blood flow to the intestine. It is best to act on symptoms early for a better prognosis. Colic can turn from mild to catastrophic very quickly.
Colicking horses often go off their feed, you may notice less manure or the horse may be rolling, pawing or kicking at its stomach. Also lying down/continuously trying to lie down or standing with their hind legs stretched out. A horse with colic may even sweat when they may not be hot. This is a reaction to pain and also indicates a fever.
The best thing you can do is stay calm but act fast. Contact your veterinarian straight away. Try to help your vet by evaluating the degree of pain your horse may be in. Occasional pawing and refusing to eat can show mild pain. Trying to lie down, sweating, rapid breathing indicates moderate pain. If your horse is in severe pain and becoming a danger to himself and others (rolling, trashing on the ground) immediate treatment is needed. Record vital signs including: temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, any gastrointestinal sounds. Remove all hard feed and hay but keep a supply of fresh water available.
You can walk your horse around slowly to distract from the pain and to try and stimulate the stomach but excessive walking can be dangerous and lead to exhaustion. If your horse is lying down quietly and seems more comfortable that way it is best not to interfere.
After initial assessment, close monitoring of your horse is vital. If he starts to deteriorate contact your veterinarian as he may need to be hospitalized for treatment or in severe cases, have surgical intervention. Colic surgery can be an overwhelming and expensive thing to consider but with early action taken, majority of colic episodes will resolve with correct care and management from the very beginning.