Determining the Equine Heart Rate

A quality stethoscope will reduce a lot of frustration. The higher the quality of your stethoscope, the easier to hear heart sounds. The best location to auscultate the heart rate in a horse is behind the left elbow on the lower chest. Sometimes it is necessary to have the horse step forward, as the point of the elbow may be over the area that you need to place your stethoscope head.

The following audio file is a resting heart rate that is auscultated on the left side, just behind the elbow. For the best effect – use head phones and continuous play.



Normal equine heart rate is approximately 40 beats per minute. A normal equine heart beat as 2 distinct sounds – “lub” then “dub”. The “lub” or first sound is the closure of the atrioventricular Valves (mitral and Tricuspid). The “Dub” or second sound is the closure of the aortic and pulmonic valves. Do not confuse the 2 sounds as two separate beats. The two distinct sounds can always be heard in a calm resting horse. Sometimes, a beat will be dropped or missed – which is normal:


The two distinct heart sounds become less obvious as the heart rate increases. An increased heart rate will occur with excitement, exercise and pain.

Body Condition Scoring

If you think your horse might be overweight – it is. How is it best to evaluate the body condition of a horse? Use the Henneke Body Condition Evaluation. The following document is a copy of the chart utilized for condition scoring of a horse:

Henneke Body Condition Scoring

The following link is an excellent article from the publication: Equus, February 2009, that shows horses with various body conditions.

Body Condition Scoring

I find the best way to evaluate weight loss in a horse is to take several digital images (back view, front view and both side views), then periodically repeat the same series of views and compare. It is difficult to evaluate changes in weight when you observe a horse on a daily basis. Sometimes weight tapes can be misleading – a horse that is being exercised may exchange fat for an increase in muscle mass.

A properly applied twitch

This YouTube video shows the procedure that I frequently use to apply a twitch to a horse. A simple hand twitch can be more successful than applying a mechanical twitch. A horse will often tolerate a squeeze of the nose by hand, when it will fight when it feels the metal from mechanical twitch. The simple “hand twitch” can be used for short non-painful procedures.

The most effective use of the “hand twitch” is the administration of an intranasal vaccine – i.e. Pinnacle brand Strangles vaccine by Pfizer. With the “hand twitch”, the plastic stylet can be placed deep in the nostril and the vaccine administered properly on the nasal mucous membranes.