Apr 10, 2020

How To Take Your Horse's Vital Signs

The event veterinarian attending to a horse in the 10-minute box at Radnor Horse Trials in 1980. USEA Archives Photo.

This article was originally published to the USEA website on April 10, 2018.

As a horse owner and competitor is it important to pay attention to your horse’s health at all times. Becoming familiar with your horse’s vital signs is essential to monitoring your horse in competition and in the stable. Here is a quick guide to taking your horse’s vital signs - it is a good idea to practice taking these signs to increase your familiarity with what is normal for your own horse. Understanding these norms may enable you to pick up on any problematic changes in your horse’s health sooner.

History

You are likely already doing this part! Daily monitoring of your horse’s habits is a vital part of monitoring equine health. It is important to know what is normal for your horse - did he produce his normal amount of manure over the last 24 hours? Was the consistency of the manure usual? Is his appetite usual? Is his attitude usual? Did he walk at his usual pace? Any significant change in your horse’s habits may indicate a problem and should be investigated.

Temperature

99.5-101.5 degrees Fahrenheit is the normal rectal temperature range for a healthy horse.

It is a good idea to keep a thermometer on hand and in the trailer at competitions.

Use caution when taking your horse’s rectal temperature for the first time. Stand in a safe spot if the horse was to react or kick and have a confident handler assist! Add a bit it lubricant to the tip of your thermometer and gently place it in your horse’s rectum. Some thermometers need to be held in place while others may be placed and retrieved after 2 minutes.

Illness, exercise, trailering, and other factors can increase rectal temperature.

Pulse

28-48 beats per minute is the normal heart rate of a horse at rest.

To take the pulse, place two curled fingers in the groove under the horse’s jaw. Use the back of his eye as a landmark as to how far back or forward on the mandible the artery may lay. Feel for a cord like structure that is approximately the diameter of a pencil. Place gentle pressure over this structure and you will feel the pulsating artery! Count the pulse for 15 seconds and multiply by 4 to get the total number of beats per minute.

Be patient - it takes practice to master this skill. Pulse may increase with excitement, exercise, dehydration, or illness.

Respiration

8-16 breaths per minute is the normal respiratory rate for a horse at rest.

Watch your horse’s flank area for a full minute and count the number of breaths he takes. Respiration rate may increase with excitement, exercise, or illness.

Mucus Membranes

A normal horse should have pink and moist mucus membranes.

Lift the corner of your horse’s upper lip and look at the color of his gums - they should be a bright bubble gum pink color. Lighting can make assessing color difficult at times - if you question the color compare them to your own gum color! Gums that are pale pink, yellow, grey, or brown tinted may indicate a problem with your horse’s health.

While you are looking at the gums for color, also notice the moisture content of the gums. Healthy horse gums are moist and have a thin layer of saliva covering them. Gums that are dry or feel tacky to the touch may indicate dehydration in the horse.

Capillary Refill Time (CRT)

1-2 seconds is the normal capillary refill time in a healthy horse.

Capillary refill time, or CRT, is the amount of time it takes a horse’s capillaries to refill with blood after the blood has been removed from the capillary. While you have the horse’s upper lip lifted, use your thumb to press on the gums above the front teeth. Press an area for 1-2 seconds until the tissue is white (you have successfully pressed the blood out of the capillaries). Then count the time it takes for that white area of tissue to return to the normal pink color of the surrounding tissues.

A longer capillary refill time may indicate dehydration or circulation problems.

Dr. Michelle Gardner grew up in Rowan County riding on farm calls and working at Large Animal Medicine and Surgery with her father, Dr. Andy Gardner. She received a BS in Biology from North Carolina State University in 2005. She then continued her studies and graduated from the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2009. After graduation she completed a 12-month, specialized internship in Equine Medicine and Surgery at Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine. In August 2010 Dr. Michelle returned to North Carolina and joined Large Animal Medicine and Surgery. Her professional interests include equine lameness, internal medicine, and surgery. When Dr. Michelle is not working, she enjoys riding her horse Goose.

May 18, 2024 Eventing News

Will Coleman: Father, Eventer, Olympian

As a child growing up in Virginia’s hunt country, William “Will” Coleman III developed a lifelong passion for horses. “I was lucky to grow up in a ‘horsey’ family,” Will said. “Both of my parents rode, and we always had knowledgeable horse people visiting our farm. They instilled in me a deep love of the animals, right from the beginning.”

May 17, 2024 Eventing News

Tommy Greengard and That’s Me Z Top Galway Downs Preliminary Challenge

Young professional Tommy Greengard and That’s Me Z added this year’s Galway Downs Preliminary Challenge title to their two years of ongoing successes in the sport. Launched in 2009, the Challenge is a West Coast fixture on the spring eventing circuit, giving horses and riders a step-up opportunity with slightly more difficult dressage and show jumping demands.

May 17, 2024 Eventing News

YEH Graduates Shine at 2024 Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event

A total of 19 USEA Young Event Horse (YEH) program graduates started the 2024 Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event, held April 24-28 in Lexington, Kentucky, in both the highly competitive CCI4*-S and five-star divisions.

May 16, 2024 Eventing News

Weekend Quick Links: May 18-19

Are you following along with the action from home this weekend? Or maybe you're competing at an event and need information fast. Either way, we’ve got you covered! Check out the USEA’s Weekend Quick Links for links to information including the prize list, ride times, live scores, and more for all the events running this weekend.

Official Corporate Sponsors of the USEA

Official Joint Therapy Treatment of the USEA

Official Feed of the USEA

Official Saddle of the USEA

Official Equine Insurance of the USEA

Official Forage of the USEA

Official Supplement Feeding System of the USEA

Official Competition & Training Apparel of the USEA

Official Horse Boot of the USEA