Learn to check the digital pulse in a horse’s foot before laminitis develops

Checking a horse's digital pulse.

Checking a horse’s digital pulse.

Checking the digital pulse in a horse’s foot is a handy skill to have. It’s good to establish what your horse’s pulse feels like prior to the horse having problems, such as laminitis or founder. If you call the vet and say, “I think my horse is foundering,” the first thing the vet will ask you is, “Does your horse have a pulse?”

There are two ways to position your hand, and preference really comes down to the size of your hand.

The process is similar to checking your own pulse using your wrist. To do that, turn your hand palm up and put your first two fingers on the outer edge of your wrist just beyond where your wrist meets your hand. Press lightly to feel your pulse. Everyone should be able to feel this pulse.

In a normal horse, it’s often difficult to find the digital pulse. That’s OK. At the same time, feeling a small pulse does not necessarily indicate that the horse has a problem.

Place your thumb and one or two fingers on the outer edges of the crease where the horse’s foot meets the ankle (see photo). If you have a long hand, you can reach around the front of the foot. Otherwise, just feel the ankle from the back of the foot.

Press a little, but not too much. Feel for the same type of pulse you feel in your own wrist.

The skill really is like anything else. If you do it enough, you get the hang of it.

Check the horse’s pulse at consistent times to get a feel for the normal pulse at those times. I have one horse with a much stronger pulse overnight than during the day. Note both the strength and rapidness of the pulse. Horses with an acute case of laminitis often have a rapid, pounding pulse. A normal pulse might feel very faint and deliberate if you can feel it at all.

Write down your description of the pulse in a place where you can find it if you need it.

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