A horse’s heart rate is a basic vital sign that provides useful information in virtually all cases of injury or illness. Listening to your horse’s heart and taking an accurate heart rate is a very important skill for a horse owner to master.
As you become more experienced performing this skill, you may be able to identify more subtle abnormalities that you can discuss with your vet.
Normal heart rate in most resting adult horses is 28-44 BPM (beats per minute). Very fit horses have lower rates, 24-30 BPM. Exercise, pain, fever, infection, stress, anxiety, and illness can all cause horses to have elevated heart rates.
Foals have much higher heart rates (depending on their age), 60-120 BPM. A very low heart rate and occasional missed beats are rarely indicative of a problem.
Ensure that the horse is adequately restrained. Be sure that the stethoscope's earpieces are pointing forward before placing them in your ears. Make contact with the horse's left shoulder and move to the left side of the horse.
Place the stethoscope near the girth (lower than the level at which you would buckle the girth) and gently slide the stethoscope towards your horse's head (cranial), sliding behind the big triceps muscle mass and against the rib cage.
Now listen... "Lub" and "dub" are the major heart sounds and together make up a single beat. Count the number of beats in 15 seconds and multiply by 4 for the total beats per minute. When assessing for normal rhythm, listen to the heart for a full 30-45 seconds.
Tips for safety & Success
To hear the heart sounds most easily, it is important to push the stethoscope into the rib spaces behind the triceps muscle mass in the left girth.
Until you become practiced, try to listen to the heart in a quiet place, out of the wind. Keep in mind that it is more difficult to hear the heart sounds in heavier or fatter horses.
You can hear the heart beat at the right girth but it is quieter in most horses, and is heard better with the stethoscope head pushed far forward.
Ensure that the stethoscope ear pieces that you put in your ears point forward. Keep in mind that a horse heart beat is made up of a two-part lub-dub sound.
Do not count each lub and each dub as separate heart beats.
A common oversight is not having a watch or clock (with a second hand ) available for this procedure. Make sure you have an adequate timepiece with you when you perform this skill.