Quick quiz for a Thursday evening.

  1. What is a healthy horse’s temperature?
  2. What is a healthy horse’s resting pulse rate?
  3. What is a healthy horse’s resting breathing rate?

If you know the answers then well done, if you don’t then read on – although even if you do know the answers, it might be an idea to read on anyway!


A horse’s normal temperature is 100.5F or 38C. You take their temperature by inserting the thermometer into the rectum. Firstly, coat the end of the thermometer with Vaseline. Then standing to the side of the horse, lift the tail, and push the thermometer into their rectum, ensuring it is close to the wall, in order to get a true reading.

Some horses readily accept this procedure, but others really don’t. If you know your horse isn’t a fan of having his temperature taken, and one day he calmly lets you then you know he is under the weather. At the same time, as soon as he no longer lets you take his temperature then you know he is on the way to recovery.

Like humans, all horses are individuals so their normal temperature will vary slightly. It’s worth recording your horse’s temperature when he’s healthy so that you have a base line to work with.

The body temperature tends to fluctuate slightly during the day, and depending on the time of year, so you should not be concerned if their temperature is half a degree above or below their “normal”.


The resting pulse can vary from between 36 and 42 beats per minute.

However… the pulse depends greatly on the individual horse, his fitness level, and his state of arousal. I.e. is he standing alert staring at the horses galloping around the field? The adrenaline is kicking in and his heart rate is increasing in preparation to either fight or flight.

You can take your horse’s pulse rate from the transverse facial artery. Standing on to the horse’s left, follow the line of the jawbone until directly below the eye and you should feel a cordlike structure, the diameter of a pencil. Wrap your fingers around the artery and apply slight pressure until you can feel the pulse beating. 

Then all you need to do is count!

You can also take the pulse from the digital artery below the fetlock, of which a “bounding digital pulse” is a symptom of laminitis. 

Another way of checking the pulse is to use a stethoscope, which is how vets do it.

When you are taking your horse’s pulse you want them to be as calm as possible. Choose a quiet moment, with few distractions and the horse standing quietly.

Again, it’s useful to have a good idea of your horse’s resting pulse, but you should be aware that it changes according to their fitness level as well as the weather.


A horse’s respiration rate is between 8 and 16 breaths per minutes, but again it varies greatly according to fitness, weather, age, and arousal.

Standing behind and to the side of your horse, you should clearly be able to observe the rise and fall of their flanks. One breath is an exhalation and inhalation, so make sure you don’t count each breath twice! 

You can also see if your horse has a double exhalation, which is when they seem to force extra air out at the end of exhalation. It is a common symptom of horse’s suffering from COPD, and suggests respiratory problems. 

Having a good idea of the normal readings for your horse when healthy, along with knowing his normal gut sounds, behaviour and mannerisms, will help you pick up on the first symptoms of illness so you can treat them quickly and effectively.

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