A horse’s normal pulse rate averages 35 beats per minute. Lower rates are normal for larger, older horses at rest. Younger, smaller horses have a higher pulse rate. A yearling has a normal rate of 40 to 58 beats per minute. A horse’s pulse can be felt in several places: the inner surface of the lower jaw, the back edge of the jaw or cheek, under the tail, or inside the left elbow. Usually the pulse is taken from the artery on the inside lower jaw. It is in front of the large, round jaw muscles and found by moving your fingers up and down on the inside and underside of the jaw bone. The artery feels like a flat, soft cord. By pressing the artery against the jaw bone, you can feel the pulse. As blood flows through the artery, it pulses against your finger.
Capillary Refill Time - (CRT)
Measures the time it takes for capillaries to refill with blood. It is an easy test to perform. Press the mucous membrane inside the nostril or the gums to measure CRT. As you press on the membrane, you press blood out of the capillaries. When you remove your finger the membrane appears pale. You can see the blood return as the membrane regains its pink color. It should take 1 to 2 seconds for the membrane to return to the color of the surrounding area. If it takes longer than 1 to 2 seconds, your horse’s circulation is poor, or it may be in shock. Use yourself as a comparison. Squeeze your thumb. Watch the color under your thumb nail. It will be pale pink when you release it, but the color will return rapidly.
Take the horse’s temperature with a rectal thermometer. The thermometer should be lubricated, and the mercury should be shaken below 95 degrees Fahrenheit before inserting it into the rectum. The normal temperature of a horse can range from 99.5 degrees to 101.5 degrees,with an average of 100 degrees. A fever is classified as mild at 102 degrees and excessive at 106 degrees. Exercise, excitement and hot weather raise normal body temperature.
To measure the breathing or respiration rate, watch the flank and rib movements with each breath. Count the number of these in-out movements in a minute or for 15 seconds and multiply by four. An adult horse at rest breathing rate should range from eight to 16 breaths per minute. The rate increases with exercise. Younger and smaller horses have a more rapid rate.
Although tooth wear isn't a disease, tooth care helps keep your horse healthy. A horse eats fibrous materials that require a lot of chewing. This process causes the horse’s grinding teeth (premolars and molars) to wear down. Because the upper teeth are set slightly wider than the lower teeth, sharp points develop on the outside of the upper teeth and on the inside of the lower teeth. These sharp points cause the horse to bite its cheeks and tongue as it chews food. It’s harder for a horse with bad teeth to grind its food once it’s taken in, which can lead to weight loss or a blockage in the intestines. Horses 5 years and older should have these sharp points ground off every year by a veterinarian using a dental float.