Understanding how to check a horse's digital pulse is an excellent skill to have and something that every horse person should know how to do, because you can often detect a problem by an increased pulse before there are other signs of lameness or illness. The digital pulse is a way to measure the blood flow going to a horse's feet. A stronger than normal pulse may indicate either a localized or a systemic problem in the horse, as blood flow in the feet can be affected by many conditions. Both pain and inflammation in the foot and elsewhere will increase the strength of the digital pulse, and are reasons to contact your equine veterinarian.
It is important to regularly check your horse's digital pulses in all four feet and to familiarize yourself with what his normal pulse feels like. In this way you will be able to tell when the pulse is increased in any one foot, and to know whether or not you have cause for concern. Keep in mind that with certain health problems, you may feel an increased pulse in more than one foot. Laminitis, for example, often affects two or more feet at a time.
Unlike checking a normal pulse, when checking the digital pulse you do not need to count the rate of pulses, or beats per minute. The strength of the blood flow is the only concern when checking a digital pulse.
In order to check a horse's digital pulse, ask your veterinarian to show you where the horse's digital arteries are located. These arteries run on either side of the horse's leg, just in front of the bulb of the fetlock joint.
Position your horse with all four feet evenly on the ground, and make sure he is standing calmly. Gently but firmly press your thumb and middle fingers against the digital arteries, placing your thumb on the inside artery and your middle finger on the outside artery. Use enough pressure to slightly compress the arteries, but not so much that you close off the artery and stop the blood flow. A normal digital pulse is equal in all four feet and is very slight, almost to the point of being undetectable.
Make a mental note of how strong the pulse is and compare the strength of the pulse in all four feet to determine whether they are all equal. The digital pulse should be checked frequently, at least once a week. If you detect an increased digital pulse in any one foot, contact your equine veterinarian.