<p>1. To locate the digital artery, stand to the outside of your horse's leg and slide two or three fingers down the inside of his leg below his ankle into the notch at the bifurcation--or branching--of the suspensory ligament and the deep digital flexor tendon. (Note: Do not use your thumb--you will feel your own pulse and not your horse's!)</p>
<p>2. Once you find the notch, wiggle your fingers back and forth a bit until you feel a cordlike structure, which is the artery, vein and nerve. Place your fingers in front of the "cord" and curl your fingers about 45 degrees to press the cord against the fetlock bone. You should press hard enough to feel the pulse--which can be very subtle or almost imperceptible in a healthy horse--but not so hard that your horse lifts his leg or you cause him pain.</p>
<p>3. Once you find his pulse, count the number of beats you feel while looking at the second hand on your watch to note when 15 seconds has elapsed. Multiply the number of pulses you count by four. This will give you his total bpm.</p>
Your horse has been diagnosed with laminitis and your vet tells you to monitor his pulse, both the beats per minute (bpm) and strength. Or you bring your horse in from the pasture looking forward to a nice afternoon ride, but once his feet hit the barn aisle something doesn't sound right. You ask him to jog, and he gives you a limp. You look him over for any obvious wounds or swelling. You feel for heat, and check his feet for rocks and nails. Then you remember reading something about checking his pulse.
But exactly how and where do you take your horse's pulse?
A pulse is the rhythmic contraction and expansion of an artery due to the surge of blood from from the beating of your horse's heart. Taking his pulse measures the rate and strength of his heart beat. A faster-than-normal pulse indicates exertion, excitement or system-wide stress from conditions such as colic, fever or other trauma. But a pulse in his leg that feels stronger than usual could indicate laminitis, a bruise, a close nail from shoeing or a fracture. It also could be a sign of inflammation from an infection, such as an abscess.
There are several places you can take your horse's pulse, but the best place to gauge leg or foot pain is at the digital artery below his ankle joint. The normal pulse range for adult horses (ages 4-20) is 30-40 bpm, with an average of 36 for Thoroughbreds and warmbloods. Drafts and Quarter Horse types often average a little lower: between 70-120 bpm, and yearlings from 45-50 bpm. Following moderate exercise, a horse's pulse rate should increase to 180-240 bpm, and it should fall to 60 bpm within 10-20 minutes of rest, and then slowly return to normal.
Taking your horse's pulse when he's healthy will give you an opportunity to get a feel for his normal pulse strength. It can be very subtle in some healthy horses.
To find your horse's average resting pulse rate, take it daily or every other day for at least a week using the method that I describe below. Add the results and divide by the number of times you took the pulse to get an average. The reason for doing this is because a horse's pulse can be affected by exercise, environmental temperature, stress, excitement of physical condition.