Hydroxyethyl starch (HES) solution is an effective colloidal infusion solution in humans for treatment of hypovolaemic shock, but it has not been compared with fluids currently available for use in horses. On the basis of plasma-expanding effect of HES in normal horses, a 10% medium-molecular 200/0.5 solution of HES was subsequently tested in hypovolaemic horses. Six normal horses were given five protocols of a single infusion of HES at varying dosage rates (5, 10, 15 ml HES/kg), as well as isotonic saline (15 ml/kg) and hypertonic saline (4 ml/kg b.w.). Dehydrated horses suffering from acute colitis or those which had been treated surgically for ileus of the small or large intestine were given an i.v. infusion of 10 ml HES/kg in combination with 10 ml saline/kg. Clinical data and blood samples for testing were taken before the infusion, and then 10 min, 1 h, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 and 24 h after infusion (a.i.). A significant decrease in haematocrit was observed in protocol 1–5 for a period of up to 4, 4, 10 h, 10 min and up to 10 min; in group of colitis, during the entire 24-h testing period, and in groups of ileus of small intestine and of large intestine, up to 4 and 10 h a.i. HES decreases better and longer-lasting haematocrit and total protein than either isotonic or hypertonic saline. Half-life of HES increases due to higher dosage (5.83, 7.63 and 11.48 h) and distribution is exclusively intravascular. In normal horses of protocol 1–3 using HES aPTT, sodium and potassium were within the physiological range. Serum amylase activity is increased in horses using HES. On the basis of this clinical study, the decreasing effect of urea and creatinine in colic patients after surgery and fewer instances of postoperative ileus a dosage of 10 ml HES/kg could be recommended.