To take a pulse, place the stethescope on the left side of the horse, in front of the girth and behind the elbow. If you need to, move the stethescope around a bit till you can hear the heart rate. If the horse has a strong slow rate, you should be able to hear a "lub-a-dub" sort of sound. If the heart rate is a bit faster or not so strong you`ll only hear "lub-dub". A trained vet will still hear the 3-beat.
Look at your watch, (I like to start on a 15 second interval to help my poor brain), at exactly 00 seconds (or whenever) listen for a heart beat. If the heart beats at exactly the 00, don`t count it. Start with the first beat after 00. This may be a quarter second or a full second or more. Count the beats till the watch says 15 seconds are up. If the heart beats at the 15 second mark, count that beat. Multiply times four for a full minute rate.
As mentioned last week, the "normal" heart rate varies with each horse, breed, condition and age. For the "average" endurance horse, you should have a rate near 40 beats per minute. Or 10 beats in 15 seconds. Your horse may have a rate of 8 or 15. Don`t concern yourself with the normal or average until you have listened to your horse`s rate for several weeks and know what is normal for him. The horse`s rate will increase or decrease with level of activity and excitement. I watched a horse "fail" the vet check-in because the mare was in heat and the previous horse to check-in was a stallion strutting his stuff. The vet asked the rider to bring the mare back in the morning.
I`m going to use some averages and normals here. Don`t worry if you don`t meet the exact numbers. Let`s say that Drake (my horse) has a resting rate of 9 (I`m also going to reduce my numbers to the 15 second interval). Once I saddle up and get ready to ride, he may be at 12. I`ll work him a bit, and expect him to be at 15, with a quickly lowering to 12 if I stop work. Then, I`ll do some real work and he may go up to 20. Race up a hill, jump off and take the pulse and he could be 40, which will drop quickly to 20, then taper off to 15. After long hard work out, I should be able to get him down to 15 very quickly, and back to 10 within half an hour.
Some one sent me the follow rates for their horse. They were using a heart rate monitor.
6 mph trot from 105 - 115 bpm
extended trot - 10 mph? 135 bpm
canter 140-155 bpm
sprint up at 100 foot rise hill in 1/8 mile peaks at 220 bpm.
it is back below 100 bpm in less than 60 sec
At a ride, the criteria will be set some where between 16 and 18 beats in 15 seconds (64 to 72). When you come into the vet check, you`ll have about 1/2 hour to get the horse`s heart rate down. After that, if the horse is not down, you probably have a problem. Most horses will come down (if ridden within the horse`s capacity) within a couple of minutes. If you walk into the vet check, many horses will be at criteria as soon as they come in the gate.
At a vet check, the vet looks for many factors in determining if the horse is fit to continue. There is a standard "card" for riders which lists these factors.
Heart rate, respiration rate. Respiration should be less than heart rate unless it is hot/humid, or the horse pants. Also, resp, should not count the pants, only the deep breaths.
Hydration. Usually done with a skin pinch test. Take pinch of skin at the shoulder. Pull and release. The skin should snap back immediately. A dehydrated horse may have skin tenting for several seconds.
Gut sounds. The horse should always have "gurrguling" in his guts.
Capilary refill. Take your hand and squeeze hard into a fist. Hold then release. Look at your palm. It will take a couple seconds for the white skin to get color back. The capilaries are refilling with blood. The longer it takes the more stress is being placed on the system. For the horse, lift the upper lip, press with a finger on the horse`s gum for a couple of seconds. Watch the color come back. This should happen in a second or two. You should do this at home just to see what is normal for you horse. This test is a good one to know if your horse is sick - you can tell the vet, heart rate, resp rate, cp rate, guts sounds, over the phone and the vet will be able to judge just how fast he has to get to your place.
Muscle tone, annal tone, attitude, general impression, and a few other items are noted.
CRI - Cardiac Recovery Index. The vet takes the heart rate. One minute later the vet takes the rate again. During that one minute, you must trot out the horse 100 feet (I think that`s the distance) and back. The heart rate at the end must still be at or lower than citeria. (Rider`s heart rate is not counted.)
Trot out - Also during the CRI, the vet will be inspecting the horse for lameness. If the horse appears a bit off, the vet may ask to trot the horse again, this time in a circle left and right. Depending on the ride and location, any lameness may be grounds for being pulled. The Tevis ride will pull even the slightest lameness at a couple of checks because if the rider were to continue, a couple miles further on, there is no way to get the horse off the trail. At most rides, a grade one lameness is allowed to continue. A grade two will probably be pulled. A grade three will always be pulled.
At trot out - your horse should be a loose lead. Don`t hold tight to the head. Don`t pull the horse around. The horse should trot beside you. Don`t block the vet`s view of the horse. Trot straight away from the vet and straight back to him. If you need a whip or crop, take it. Practice at home.
One other citeria you should always be look for is how you think your horse is going. You are with the horse the entire time. You have to be able to sense when something is wrong. If you think some thing is wrong, tell the vet. Don`t worry about being pulled. Some times the vet will look over the problem and tell you not to worry. Other times, the vet may be very happy you told him/her because they wouldn`t have seen the problem. You are the one that knows your horse best. You`ll know if it just isn`t your horse`s day to continue. Always listen to your horse.
Consider the following two situations. At the world chapionships, one rider realized half way through that her horse wasn`t fully up to snuff, she decided to ride for a finish and did so. (The story bit was in an earlier digest). At a ride I was at a few years ago a woman decided her horse was not working as he should, he was being lazy, and she pushed him on and on. At the vet check she was pulled and the horse sent to the hospital. He will never be ridden again because she pushed so hard his heart was damaged. I doubt anyone here would ever push so hard. And I don`t want to scare off the new comers. Just listen to you horse and know you horse. And don`t worry about telling a vet for fear you might be pulled for some little thing. The vets are fair.