Classic Equine Connection

Healthy Vital Signs For Your Horse

Posted by Classic Equine Equipment Blog on Aug 5, 2020 3:27:40 PM

Knowing your horses normal behavior when he is feeling good will help you to better realize when he may be feeling sick or not normal. Every horse owner needs to know what is “normal” for their horse. Being able to report these behaviors to your veterinarian when you contact him can help evaluate whether a visit is necessary and/or how quickly your horse needs to be seen.

Get a baseline of your horse’s temperature, pulse and respiration when he is healthy, relaxed and before working him.Make sure to get readings in both summer and winter and also after his workout so you know what his "normal" is in different circumstances.

What you’ll need:

- A watch that will count in seconds

-A thermometer –  (digital is best for ease and safety)

-A stethoscope

-A notepad for recording vitals

Classic Equine Horse BlogTEMPERATURE:

The normal temperature for a horse is 100.0 degrees. However, a horse’s temperature can vary with season. During the winter, your horse’s “normal” temperature may drop several degrees, but low temperatures generally are not causes for concern. On the other hand, summer heat, as well as exercise, can often raise a horse’s temperature. These circumstances must be taken into account when determining if there is cause for concern.

It is easiest to take your horse’s temperature rectally with a digital thermometer. Coating the tip of the thermometer with petroleum jelly makes for an easier insertion and more comfortable for your horse. Remember to tie a string to the end of the thermometer to make sure you are able to retrieve it. You can also briefly wrap your horse’s dock in a bandage to make it easier to push the tail hair away to insert the thermometer. Most thermometers will beep when the maximum temperature has been reached.

If your horse’s temperature is over 102 F, you should call your veterinarian.

PULSE:Classic Equine Horse Blog

The pulse rate is taken by listening to the heart, located on the left side of the chest just behind the elbow. You can also take the pulse at the thick artery that runs underneath the cheekbone on either side of your horse’s face. Place three fingers (never your thumb which has its own pulse) on the artery and press upward and inward.

Using a stethoscope can often make hearing and counting the heart beats easier. Some people listen to the heart rate for 10 seconds and then multiply by 6, or 30 seconds and multiply by 2. However, if questionable, listen to the pulse rate for the full minute.

The normal pulse rate is 40 beats per minute. However, horses that are fit may have rates as low as 28  and young horses and ponies can sometimes have a bit faster pulse rate.

Classic Equine Horse BlogRates between 40-60 are considered “serious”, but may be explained by an elevated temperature such as on a very hot day or if the horse is suddenly frightened or excited, his heart rate can become temporarily elevated. Wait a few minutes and then recheck to see if the rate comes down when he is more relaxed. Rates above 80 are considered “critical” and indicate a very serious problem.

However, ANY rate above 40, even 44, should be regarded with suspicion and evaluated in the overall picture of how the horse is feeling.


Respiration is how hard your horse is breathing. Watch his sides as he breathes in and out and count the number of complete breaths. Deep heavy breathing, or breathing with extra abdominal effort, abnormal noise, labored breathing, or gasping are all indications of a serious problem.

The normal rate for horses is between 8-12 breaths per minute. Again, many things can effect this that must be taken into consideration before considering whether it is abnormal (temperature, excitement or a heavy workout).

OTHER VITAL SIGNSClassic Equine Horse Blog

While temperature, pulse and respiration are the three most common vital signs used to determine your horse’s health, there are other indicators that you may want to check and report to your veterinarian:

Mucus Membrane Color: The normal color is pink

Capillary Refill Time: After depressing the gums, the color should return within 1-2 seconds.

Gut sounds (borborygmus): A horse should have a normal gurgling sound on both sides of the abdomen back near the flanks.

Hydration: Pinch and elevate the horse’s skin over the shoulder, then let go. If it snaps back into place very quickly, your horse is properly hydrated. This is especially important during high temperatures. 

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