How To Take Your Horse’s Vitals

If you are a horse owner, knowing how to recognize and take your horse’s vitals in order to diagnose their condition could mean a world of difference in the case of injury or illness. Being knowledgeable on the basics of the equine body is something that all horse owners, and really equestrians in general, should know. Continue reading for more information on how to recognize and take your horse’s vitals, so that you will be better-prepared to help your horse in the case of emergency.


The normal body temperature for horses ranges from 99-101 degrees Fahrenheit, with the average for mares usually coming in at 100 degrees, and the average for a stallion coming in at 99.7 degrees. Just like with humans, taking a horse’s temperature is an excellent first indicator of the status of the horse’s health.

When taking your horse’s temperature, you have two options; a glass rectal thermometer, or a digital rectal thermometer. A digital thermometer is convenient in that it takes no more than 60 seconds to produce a reading, but it may need to be held while taking the temperature. A glass thermometer will not need to be held, but usually takes 2 to 3 minutes to produce a reading.

When you take the horse’s temperature, wait until the horse has just passed waste before you proceed to take the horse’s temperature. This will help prevent you from inserting the thermometer into waste inside the horse’s rectum. Taking the horse’s temperature while waste is still in the rectum will usually cause the reading to be high due to the heat given off by the waste.

Once you are sure that the horse has recently passed waste; move the tail to the side and position yourself so that you are safely behind the horse and to the side a bit. This will ensure your safety in the event that the horse becomes frightened or startled and kicks out behind them. Lubricate the end of the thermometer. Insert the thermometer into the rectum, angling it slightly towards the ground. If you are using a digital thermometer, it will beep to let you know when it is finished taking the horse’s temperature, usually after about a minute. If you are using a glass thermometer, you will have to keep track of the time that passes. Do not remove the thermometer from the rectum for at least three minutes, with five minutes being an ideal amount of time to leave it in. When you are finished, make sure that you clean the thermometer before storing it away once more.

If the temperature reading you recieve is higher than normal, it is always a good idea to take the horse’s temperature once more, just to be sure. If you receive another high temperature on the second reading, you can be sure that it is not an incorrect reading. It is best to contact your veterinarian immediately; like in the human body, a high temperature is an indicator of a fever, which is a vital sign that accompanies diseases and illnesses. Having the ability to catch a fever before it progresses into something serious can make a massive difference in your horse’s situation.


The normal resting pulse rate for adult horses is 30 to 40 beats per minute (BPM). The pulse rate increases due to exercise, pain, or stress. Below are two different places and ways to take your horse’s pulse:

  • Maxillary artery: Place your fingers on the inside edge of the jaw. Count the beats for 30 seconds
  • Radial artery: Place your hands around the back of the knee. Locate the beat and count for 30 seconds.

After counting for 30 seconds, double your count to find the beats per minute (bpm).

A pulse that is too high or too low may be an indication of an issue with the horse’s heart. If you find the pulse reading to be alarming, alert your veterinarian immediately.

Capillary Refill Time (CRT)

The capillary refill time is tested to determine the status of the horse’s circulatory system. An easy way to test your horse’s capillary refill time is to press your finger against the gums for about 2 seconds. Upon release of the pressure against the gums with your finger, the gums should change from white to pink within 2 seconds. This is your horse’s capillary refill time. If the refill takes longer than 3 seconds, it may be an indicator that the horse is in shock. In this scenario, it is best to alert your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Respiration Rate

To monitor your horse’s respiration rate, watch or place a hand on your horse’s rib cage or belly. Watch for one minute, keeping in mind that one inhale and exhale counts as one breath. Using a stethoscope during this vital exam can enable to you clearly hear breaths traveling through the windpipe, and it will also enable you to hear if there are any blockages in the airway. Using a stethoscope will also enable you to hear if there is any wheezing or other strange sounds that may either be caused by a blockage or by mucous.

Knowing how to take your horse’s vitals can help you better understand your horse’s body, which will allow you to help them manage their health even further and on a more personal level. When you are knowledgeable on your horse’s vital signs and what you should normally expect to see when taking vitals, you will be one step ahead of the problem at all times, rather than being stuck waiting for the vet to show up and conduct an examination when he or she arrives.

Practice taking your horse’s vitals to get in the habit of regularly monitor your horse’s health. It is also a good idea to keep a written record whenever you take your horse’s vitals; this will allow you to look back and compare your horse’s vital signs over time. This is just another way for you to become more involved in your horse’s health, and it will help you notice positive or negative trends in your findings.

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