How to Give a Horse a Physical Exam

There are many types of physical exams that you may need to perform throughout the cycles of your horse's life. The most basic of these allows you to instruct your vet as to the condition of your horse when you call him in any given situation, be that an emergency, lameness call, or just a general visit.


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    Confine the horse to an area that is away from the herd, but still within eyeshot of them. Typically, that's a barn aisle, but if the horse is pasture kept, you may want to find a safe spot in a stall with a window or even along a non-wire fenced fence row, if there is not a barn available.
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    Check the horse for wounds, blood, or any obvious signs of lameness. If the horse appears severely lame, determine if the injury is so severe that moving the horse is inadvisable. If this is the case, enlist an assistant to keep the herd a safe distance from you and call the veterinarian immediately.
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    Provided the horse is sound enough to move, begin by taking the basic vital signs of the horse. These are known as "TPR." T for temperature, P for pulse, and R for respiration.
    • The temperature of the horse at rest is 100.5. Slight variations of this are common. However, there is not huge wiggle room for this. A horse with a temperature of 102 or better would warrant speaking to your vet and seeing if a Banamine injection to control the temperature is appropriate. A temperature of 103 or greater is a very large cause for concern and you need to contact your vet immediately.
    • The pulse of your horse at rest is to be between 30 and 45 bpm. This can be found by a stethoscope, or if one is not available, you can place your index and middle fingers in the branch of the jaw and find the pulse point there. Use a watch and time the beats for ten seconds. Multiply that number by 6 and you will have your horse's pulse rate.
    • Finally for the respiration, at rest the horse will breathe 8-10 breaths per minute. Make sure the horse is not in any sort of an agitated state. You can do this by watching his sides as he inhales and exhales. Do not attempt to put your hand to his muzzle or otherwise stimulate him as this will effect the results.
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    Follow up with your vet. When you call your veterinarian for care, you should have all of the information above available to him. If it is an emergency situation, the vet will give you instructions on how to care for the horse until he arrives. It is always good to take these vital signs when you first get a horse once a week. It is also a good idea to take them daily a week before departing on a trip (trail ride, horse show, etc) and then monitor them daily while at the event. This lets you know as soon as possible that there may be a problem developing with your horse.


  • For your horse's safety, always make sure that he is in a secure environment for any type of examination. Make sure that you are wearing appropriate safety equipment, including correct footwear. It is most helpful if you can have an assistant to hold the horse while you perform the examination and the assistant should wear gloves to protect their hands, should the horse get frightened and pull back. If you do not have an assistant, then make sure that the horse is correctly tied with a safety knot. Do not perform examinations with the horse in cross ties.

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Categories: Horse Health