Your Horse’s Vital Signs Logo

Photo by Heidi MeloccoLearn how to check your horse’s pulse, respiration, and temperature with this information from the Certified Horsemanship Association.

One place to take your horse’s pulse is behind his elbow. Place a stethoscope on your horse’s side, just behind his elbow, and listen for heartbeat.
Have you ever been preparing to ride your horse and notice he’s just not quite right? The first step is to take his vital signs. This will give you insight into his condition and help you decide whether you should call your veterinarian or just keep a close eye on your horse.

It’s also a good idea to take your horse’s vital signs when he’s rested and feeling fine to determine what’s normal for him. Then you’ll have a baseline, which will help you determine any variances.

To learn how to take your horse’s vital signs, watch this instructional video from the Certified Horseman Association, as demonstrated by Michal Kays.

Below are a few guidelines.

What’s normal: A horse’s normal pulse rate is between 30 and 40 beats per minute.

How to check: You can check your horse’s pulse in one of three places, as outlined below. Count the number of pulses; use a stopwatch or your own watch to keep the time.

  • Jaw line. Gently place your hand under your horse’s jaw line, allowing the blood to flow through.
  • Knee/fetlock. Also using your hand, find the digital pulse on the inside of your horse’s knee or at his fetlock just above the pastern.
  • Behind the elbow. Place a stethoscope on your horse’s side, just behind his elbow, and listen for heartbeat.

What’s normal: Normal respiration for a horse at rest is 3 to 16 breaths per minute.

How to check: Watch the movement of your horse’s flanks. You can also check respiration by watching his nostrils, but this isn’t as accurate, because he can snort, and his breath is harder to follow.

What’s normal: A horse’s normal temperature ranges from 99.5 to 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Photo by Heidi Melocco
How to check: Check your horse’s temperature rectally, with a mercury or digital thermometer designed equine use. Here’s what to do.

Step 1. Attach a string. Attach a string to the thermometer, so you can retrieve it, if necessary.

Step 2. Prepare the thermometer. Warm up the thermometer with your hand, and use some kind of lubrication, such as Vaseline.

Step 3.Stay out of the kick zone. Stand to the side of your horse’s hindquarters, as shown in the video.

Step 4. Secure the thermometer. Clip or tie the thermometer string to the tail.

Step 5. Insert the thermometer. Lift up your horse’s tail, and insert the thermometer into his anal cavity. A mercury thermometer needs 2 minutes for a reading; the digital ones can be much faster.

Step 6. Move with your horse. Some horses will react when the thermometer is inserted into the rectum. If your horse moves, go with him. Be sure to keep your hand on him and on the thermometer.

Click above for a video from the Certified Horsemanship Association showing how to take your horse’s vital signs.