Measuring a horse’s pulse is important and can be done by feeling for a strong pulse with two or three fingers at an artery near the skin’s surface. A stethoscope can also be used, but it takes familiarity with the sound of the horse’s heartbeat. The age of the horse affects the reading, and an elevated pulse may indicate a problem with internal function. If the heart rate is above the maximum beats per minute, further investigation is needed.
Your horse’s pulse is a measure of the number of times its heart beats per minute. Of the three main vital signs (pulse, respiration and temperature), the pulse is the most difficult to master. As with all vital signs, it is recommended that you learn how to measure your horse’s pulse before the need arises.
A rapid, weak, or irregular heartbeat indicates that there is a problem with some internal function. There are a wide variety of reasons for an elevated pulse, including excitement, pain, high temperature, shock, illness, or having just completed exercise.
Your horse’s pulse can be detected anywhere an artery is located near the skin’s surface. Using two or three fingers, poke around until you get a strong pulse. Avoid using your thumb or you risk getting a mixed reading.
The most common sites are just above the fetlock, at the palmar digital artery or inside the horse’s jaw, at the mandibular artery. The fetlock point will be strongest on the outside of the foot. For the jaw, you can reach in from either cheek and place three fingers in and then up to reach the wrist.
Some people use a stethoscope to take their horse’s pulse. In this case, place the stethoscope on your left side, just behind your elbow, at the circumference of your crotch. It takes familiarity with the sound of your horse’s heartbeat to read it accurately. Horses have at least one three-phase heart sound compared to the familiar two-phase sound associated with humans. The middle sound is usually the loudest, and there may also be a short pause before the third sound or an additional fourth sound. For this reason, many find it more practical to measure the horse’s pulse by touch, as individual beats are more noticeable.
Once you get a strong pulse, start counting beats for 15 seconds, then multiply by four to calculate beats per minute. If your horse is comfortably standing, you can take a 30 second reading and multiply by two or just count the whole minute.
The age of the horse will create a large variable in your reading.
Newborn foal: His heart rate will be up to 120 beats per minute.
Two-week-old foal: His heart rate will reach 100 beats per minute.
Four week old foal: His heart rate will reach 70 beats per minute.
Yearling: His heart rate will be 45-60 beats per minute.
Two-year-old: His heart rate will be 40-60 beats per minute.
Adult: Your heart rate will be 30-40 beats per minute.
At any age, if your horse’s heart rate is above the maximum beats per minute, that’s an indication to continue your investigation and check his other vital signs.