Your horse's pulse is a measurement of the number of times his heart beats per minute. Of the three major vital signs (pulse, respiration and temperature), the pulse is the most difficult to master. As with all vitals, it is advised that you become schooled in taking your horse's pulse before the need arises.
A rapid, weak or irregular heartbeat serves as an indication that there is a problem with some internal function. There are a wide variety of reasons for an elevated pulse, including excitement, pain, an elevated temperature, shock, disease, or he has just completed exercise.
Your horse's pulse can be taken anywhere an artery is located close to the surface of the skin. Using two or three fingers, search 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 jawbone, at the mandibular artery. The fetlock site will be strongest on the outside of the foot. For the jawbone, you may approach from either cheek and place three fingers inward and then upward to reach the pulse.
Some people use a stethoscope for taking their horse's pulse. In this case, place the stethoscope on the left side, just behind the elbow, at your horse's girth. It takes familiarization with the sound of your horse's heartbeat in order to read it accurately. Horses have at least a three step heart sound vs. the familiar two step sound associated with humans. The middle sound is usually the strongest and there may even be a short pause before the third sound, or an additional fourth sound. For this reason, many find it more practical to take their horse's pulse by feel, as the individual beats feel more obvious.
Once you get a strong pulse, begin counting beats for 15 seconds, and then multiply by four to calculate your beats per minute. If your horse is standing comfortably, you can take a 30-second reading and multiply by two or simply count out the entire minute.
The age of the horse will create a wide variable in your reading.
- Newborn Foal: His pulse rate will be up to 120 beats per minute.
- Two week old Foal: His pulse rate will be up to 100 beats per minute.
- Four week old Foal: His pulse rate will be up to 70 beats per minute.
- Yearling: His pulse rate will be 45-60 beats per minute.
- Two year old: His pulse rate will be 40-60 beats per minute.
- Adult: His pulse rate will be 30-40 beats per minute.
At any age, if your horse's pulse rate is above the maximum beats per minute, this is an indication to continue your investigation and check his other vital signs.