The heart rate of a horse is among the most crucial health matters that horse owners must constantly monitor. Body temperature, respiration, and circulatory health are equally vital. Before checking the pulse, it is key that the owner know what the "normal" heart rate for the particular horse is--like humans, each horse is unique. Normal resting heart rate is usually between thirty-two and thirty-six BPM (beats per minute). Twenty-four beats per minute is on the low side, while forty BPM is on the high side, but both are considered normal for some horses. A newborn, on the other hand, may have a resting pulse as high as eighty to one-hundred BPM. Foals have a rate between sixty and eighty BPM. One can see as the horse grows into adulthood, normal resting pulse lowers considerably.
Checking the horse's heart rate, or pulse, may be done with or without a stethoscope, or even more easily by using a digital equine heart rate monitor. If not using a stethoscope, there are several locations on the horse's body where the pulse can be felt:
- beneath the jaw
- under the tail
- inside the foreleg
- above or behind the eye
- in the hollow of the hoof
If using a stethoscope, place the instrument on the left side of the chest, just behind the elbow, and listen for a strong heart beat. Extremely critical in obtaining an accurate reading is not to excite the horse, since any excitement elevates heart rate.
Once the pulse is found, in any of the locations named above, the heart rate can be found by counting the number of beats for fifteen seconds. Multiply the counted number by four to calculate the correct number of beats per minute. Notice that this part of the procedure is identical to calculating heart rate in humans--and in horses, it is especially convenient to count beats for only fifteen seconds, since they find it difficult to stand still.
Once the equine heart rate has been calculated, compare the results with your horse's "normal" heart rate. Changes in heart rate are among some of the main signs that something might be wrong--illness, injury, or equine fatigue, to name a few. A pulse over eighty beats per minute signals a potential problem. A prolonged heart rate of 60 or more is also a warning sign and may be dangerous to the horse's health. If something is amiss, always remember to contact a veterinarian as soon as possible.