How to Take Your Horse’s Digital Pulse

First Aid: A simple four-step method for finding your horse's pulse at the fetlock joint.

Checking your horse’s digital pulse is an important management tool. It can help you identify pain or inflammation in in the hoof. 

[READ: Quick Tips for Packing Hooves]

Why Check Your Horse’s Digital Pulse:

Learn to check your horse’s digital pulse so you can catch inflammation as it starts and prevent a condition from worsening. A strong or “throbby” digital pulse indicates inflammation in your horse’s foot or a disruption of the blood flow—conditions you’ll want to ask your vet about.

[READ: Laminitis Do’s & Don’ts]

How to Find the Digital Pulse Around the Fetlock Joint:

Step 1: Squat down on the side of your horse’s left front leg, and place your index finger around the left side of the fetlock joint at its lower edge.

Veterinarian taking horse’s digital pulse

Step 2: Apply pressure with your finger, and strum (run your finger from side to side, as though strumming a guitar) around the fetlock joint, until you feel a cordlike bundle (consisting of vein, artery, and nerve) “snap” underneath your touch.

Step 3: Apply pressure to this bundle for 5 to 10 seconds until you feel a pulse. (Note: If you can’t find a pulse, adjust the amount of pressure you’re placing on the bundle. If you press too hard, you’ll cut off blood flow-therefore the pulse. If you press too softly, you won’t create enough resistance to feel the pulse at all. Don’t get frustrated-practice!)

Step 4: Now here’s the tricky part. You need to determine whether your horse’s digital pulse is throbbing abnormally. It helps to know what a healthy pulse feels like-but you can’t always find a pulse on a healthy leg/hoof. It might be too faint. On the other hand, you’ll know he has a problem if you can easily find his digital pulse. (If you’re not sure, consult your veterinarian or knowledgeable friend.)

Step 5: Repeat Steps 1 through 4 on your horse’s other three legs.

Tip:

Practice finding the digital pulse when your horse’s feet are healthy, so you’ll know exactly where to palpate and what “normal” feels like.

[READ: Check Your Horse’s Vital Signs]

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