Tack n' Talk

Online Equestrian Resource

Digital Pulse

Checking your horse’s digital pulses is an important management tool.  It can help you identify pain or inflammation in your horse’s hooves or determine if there are larger issues affecting your horse.

When taking your horse’s pulse, you are feeling the blood flowing through the artery going into the hooves.  If there is inflammation in the hoof, then the blood flow is restricted and backs up in the artery.  The more inflammation there is in the hoof, the stronger the pulse.

In a healthy horse, the digital pulse is hard to find because there is very little blood restriction.  All horse’s are different, so checking your horse’s pulse often will help you learn your horse’s normal.

An easily felt digital pulse “bounding digital pulse”, feels like a throbbing headache or injured finger as it pounds.  It is not an increase in speed but an increase in strength.  This bounding digital pulse is a definite red flag.  It tells you that your horse may have a health issue. If this bounding pulse is just going to one hoof, then suspect a localized problem possible an abscess or a bruise.   Stronger pulses in two or four feet indicate a systemic problem and your horse may have laminitis.  But before you panic, look at your horse carefully.  Does he appear normal, happy and comfortable?  Or, are you seeing foot discomfort, personality changes or anything that leads you to believe he’s not doing well…then suspect laminitis.

A strong bounding digital pulse and hoof sensitivity are often the first signs of laminitis.  If the conditions causing inflammation are addressed quickly, your horse should improve quickly with few complications.  This is why taking your horse’s pulse frequently is important and an useful management tool.

Digital-pulse-5

Horse’s leg compared to the anatomy of the lower leg. The four areas where to take your horse’s digital pulse.

There are four common areas to take the pulse.

  1. Right above the collateral sesamoidean ligament.
  2. Over the ligament.  You have to be careful not to put too much pressure here and crimp the artery.
  3. Right below the ligament.
  4. Midway down the pastern.

See which area works best for you as everyone has a favorite place on the leg to take the digital pulse.  Learn to take digital pulses before there is a problem.  Use your common sense and trust your horse and your instincts.  If your horse looks miserable or you are overly alarmed, call your veterinarian!

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