Last Updated on October 26, 2022
Learning equine vital signs such as the normal heart rate for horses is an essential part of horse care. Whether you own or look after a horse, or a part time rider, understanding how to assess signs such as your horses heart rate can help you assess the overall health of the horse. Let’s find out everything you need to know about the normal heart rate for horses!
What Is The Normal Heart Rate For Horses?
The normal heart rate for horses ranges from 28 to 40 beats per minute. This is the number of times the heart contracts to pump blood around the body in a 60-second period, and you may also hear it referred to as the pulse rate. The normal heart rate for horses is based on the average horse resting heart rate and many factors can affect this figure.
The fitness level of a horse will determine what is normal heart rate. It is not unusual for a very fit racing thoroughbred to have a heart rate that is lower than the normal range. This is because these horses have peak cardiovascular fitness and their heart can work very efficiently.
The size of a horse will also affect the normal heart rate. Large horses such as draft breeds tend to have a lower normal heart rate than small ponies. The temperament and excitability levels of a horse can also make a difference to the normal resting heart rate.
It is not unusual to come across a horse with a resting heart rate higher in hot weather. This is because when a horse is hot, blood will be circulated closer to the skin to allow heat to dissipate. The heart will need to work harder in order to do this and will have to pump at a faster rate.
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What Is A High Heart Rate For A Horse?
It can take only something relatively minor to raise a horse’s heart rate above the normal level. This could be as innocent as the anticipation of an upcoming tasty meal, or the stress that a favorite horse friend has left the yard. Horses will frequently demonstrate a higher heart rate through periods of excitement and stress, but it should quickly return to normal.
If the resting heart rate of a horse is consistently higher than normal, this could be a cause for concern. A heart rate of 50 or above, along with any other clinical signs of ill health, warrant seeking the advice of your veterinarian. Although 50 is not an incredibly high heart rate, it could be an indication that the horse is suffering from pain, fever, mild dehydration, or other health problems.
A heart rate that is much higher than this can be a sign of severe metabolic disturbances occurring within the body. Horses suffering from painful conditions such as a severe case of colic or laminitis will often have a heart rate of 80 beats per minute or above. A heart rate this high may also be a sign of severe dehydration, shock, or septicemia.
How To Take A Horse’s Heart Rate
Being able to take the heart rate of a horse is a skill that every horse rider, carer, and owner should learn. The heart is one of the key indicators of the health status of the horse, and any changes in heart rate can help us quickly decide if the horse is suffering from a health problem. Measuring the heart rate of a horse is also a good way to assess the fitness levels of a horse during a training program.
If you struggle to remember the normal heart rate of a horse, then pinning a horse vital signs chart to your feed room wall is a good idea. You could even write alongside this the normal heart rate for all of the horses on your yard for reference. Then if a horse was off color or appeared lethargic, you could check its heart rate to see if it was same as normal.
The best way to measure the heart rate of a horse is to assess the pulse rate. This means placing your fingers over a prominent artery and feeling the blood pass through as the heart beats. Each pulse corresponds with one heartbeat.
There are several different arteries you can use to check the pulse rate of a horse. Most people find it easiest to use the submandibular artery, which just sits just underneath the lower jaw of the head, by the throat.
Place two fingers gently against the skin on the inside of this large jaw bone. You will feel a thin band running underneath the skin, kind of like a wobbly piece of cooked spaghetti! Apply light pressure to this band with the fingertips until you can feel a gentle pulse.
Each heartbeat of the horse has four distinct contractions. However, when you feel the pulse, these combine into two pulses. So for every beat you will feel two small pulses very close together, then a gap.
Count the individual beats over a period of 15, 30 or 60 seconds. The longer you count them for, the more accurate your heart rate reading will be. If you can only count them for 15 seconds, you needs multiply your count by four to get the total heart rate per minute. For 30 seconds, you will need to multiply your count by two.
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Summary – Normal Heart Rate For Horses
So, as we have learned, the normal heart rate for horses is between 28 and 40 beats per minute. Knowing the normal heart rate for your horse can be very helpful if you ever suspect that your equine friend might be unwell. A horse’s heart rate will be higher if he is nervous, excited, or anxious, and it will also be elevated during times of ill health. The normal heart rate of a horse will vary according to the size, type, and fitness levels of the horse.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the normal heart rate for horses! Do you struggle to check vital signs in your horse, such as the heart rate or respiration rate? Or maybe you’ve got some questions about the best way to tell if your horse is unwell? Leave a comment below and we will get back to you!
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE