How to check your horse’s pulse rate, respiration rate and temperature

Checking a horse's pulse
One of the most common places to check a horse's pulse is at its jaw line.

A horse’s pulse and temperature are two barometers of health. As a horse owner, it’s important that you know your horse’s “normal” temperature and its normal resting pulse rate/respiration rate as then you have a baseline for recognizing possible illness or distress. Certainly one of the first things my vet asks me when I call to say my horse seems “off” is whether or not he has a temperature.

There are a range of “normal” readings so you should plan on checking your horse over a period of several days to determine his baseline readings.

  • Normal pulse range: 28 to 45 beats (count the double ‘lub dub’ as one full beat) per minute. Note that on the second video they show four different ways to check your horse’s pulse.
  • Normal respiration range: 12 to 20 breaths per minute
  • Normal temperature range for a horse: 98.5F to 101F (36.9C to 38.3C).  A horse has a 3-degree range in temperature which is influenced by warm weather, stress or exercise. A higher temperature than this can indicate an infection. If your horse has a temperature higher than 102F, you should call your vet. Horses’ temperatures are taken rectally. To avoid losing the thermometer (yes, it happens), tie a string to the end. You can use digital thermometers but keep in mind that when using the newer ones, which show a temperature in 15-30 seconds, you will get a more accurate reading if you cycle the thermometer two or three times. When my horse was sick last fall I used a digital thermometer and incorrectly thought his temperature was lower than it actually was.

Here are three excellent videos that show you how to check your horse’s vital signs.

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