What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Heart Rate, Pulse Rapid, Greater than 48 BPM at Rest (in Adult)


A horse's heart rate or pulse rate is one of the most useful physical parameters when assessing a horse's general health. It becomes elevated with virtually all body-wide (systemic) illnesses, especially those causing lowered blood pressure or pain.

Horses experiencing abdominal pain (colic), low blood pressure, blood loss, primary heart problems, and poor respiratory gas exchange all might exhibit elevated heart rates. Importantly, though, heart rate also increases drastically with stress, exercise or excitement. For that reason, it is critical that the examiner always double check an elevated heart rate when the horse is relaxed. Certain medications will also cause a drastic rise in heart rate.

A normal heart rate or pulse for average adult horses at rest ranges from 28 to 44 beats per minute (bpm). Heart rates exceeding 50 bpm in an otherwise normal seeming horse may indicate a problem and should prompt you to call your vet to discuss your findings. In a normal horse, the heart rate should be the same as the pulse rate. Smaller horses and foals usually have more rapid heart rates.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
  • Code Yellow

    Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment
    • If your horse seems otherwise normal but you are convinced there is a problem.
You also might be observing
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your role


What To Do

Know what your horse's normal heart rate is in health, so that you have a baseline to compare to when you suspect a problem. Double check the rate when the horse is relaxed. In a recently exercised horse, the length of time it takes for heart rate to return to baseline depends to a great extent on fitness.

In most cases, there are other primary signs that prompted a horse owner to take the heart rate in the first place. The other signs may be more indicative of the nature of disease. Heart rate elevation is a common finding in many conditions but can be a valuable indicator of the severity of illness.

your vet's role

Your vet uses careful assessment of heart rhythm and other indicators of circulatory health to assess the nature of the elevated heart rate. In combination with other physical findings, your vet can usually get a general sense of the body systems involved.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • What made you check the horse's heart rate in the first place?
  • What is the horse's heart rate?
  • How is the horse's attitude and appetite?
  • Did you recheck the rate after a few minutes? If so, what was it?
  • What is the appearance of the horse's gums?
  • Are you seeing other signs of abdominal pain (colic)?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

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Treatments Your Vet May Recommend

A way to resolve the condition or diagnosis. Resolving the underlying cause or treating the signs of disease (symptomatic treatment)

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Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP