Classic Equine Connection

Vital Signs for Horse Health

Posted by Classic Equine Equipment Blog on Jan 18, 2023 3:50:30 PM

Knowing how your horse acts when he is feeling good will help you better realize when there is something wrong. Every horse owner needs to know what “normal” is for their horse. Being able to report abnormal behavior can help your veterinarian diagnose your horse in the future if there is ever something wrong. 

Get a baseline of your horse’s temperature, Cee blog - horse with humanpulse, and respiration when he is healthy and relaxed. You may also want baseline readings in the summer, winter and after a workout to know what is normal for your horse in different circumstances.

What you’ll need:




-Notepad or record book for recording vital sounds.


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 you have any questions, listen to the pulse rate for the full minute.

The normal pulse rate is 40 beats per minute.

A fit horse may have rates as low as 28 so knowing your horse’s condition is important. Young horses and ponies can sometimes have a bit faster rate.

Rates between 40-60 are considered “serious” but may be explained by an elevated temperature such as an extremely hot day. Also, 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. ANY rate above 40, even 44, should be regarded with suspicion and evaluated in the overall picture of how the horse is feeling.


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

It is easiest to take your horse’s temperature rectally with a clean digital thermometer. Coating the tip of the thermometer with petroleum jelly can make it easier for you to insert and more comfortable for your horse. Always tie a string to the end of the thermometer to make sure you can retrieve it. You can also wrap your horse’s dock in a bandage, making it easier to push the tail hair away when inserting the thermometer.

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


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 problem.

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


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.


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