Review Your Horse’s “Normal” T-P-R

horse-with-headacheKnowing how your horse acts and reacts when he is feeling good will help you to faster realize when there is something “not right” with him. Every horse owner needs to know what is “normal” for their horse. Being able to report these to your veterinarian when you contact him can help evaluate whether a visit is necessary and/or how quickly your horse needs to be seen.

Get a baseline of your horse’s temperature, pulse and respiration (T-P-R) when he is healthy, relaxed and before working himYou may also want to get additional readings in both summer and winter and after riding to know what is normal for your horse in different circumstances.

What you’ll need:

  • watch that counts seconds
  • a thermometer – plastic digital one are best for ease and safety)
  • a stethoscope.
  • A notepad or record book for recording the vital sounds

Temperature:
The normal temperature for the horse is 100.0 degrees. However, a horse’s temperature can vary somewhat with the season. During the winter, your horse’s “normal” temperature may drop several degrees, but low temperatures generally are not causes for concern.  On the other hand, summer heat, as well as exercise, can often raise a horse’s temperature a few degrees.  These circumstances must also be taken into account when determining if there is cause for concern.

 It is easiest to take your horse’s temperature rectally with a clean digital thermometer. Coating the tip of the thermometer with petroleum jelly can make it easier for you to insert and more comfortable for your horse.  Always tie a string to the end of the thermometer to make sure you can retrieve it.  You can also briefly wrap your horse’s dock in a bandage to make it easier to push the tail hair away to insert the thermometer. Most thermometers will beep when the maximum temperature has been reached.

If your horse’s temperature is over 102 F, you should call your veterinarian. 

Pulse:

The pulse rate is taken by listening to the heart, located on the left side of the chest just behind the elbow. You can also take the pulse at the thick artery that runs underneath the cheekbone on either side of your horse’s face.  Place three fingers (never your thumb which has its own pulse) on the artery and press upward and inward.

Using a stephoscope can often make hearing and counting the heart beats easier.  Some people listen to the heart rate for 10 seconds and then multiply by 6, or 30 seconds and multiply by 2.  However, if you have any questions, listen to the pulse rate for the full minute.

The normal pulse rate is 40 beats per minute.

 Horses that are fit may have rates as low as 28 so knowing your horse’s condition is important.   Young horses and ponies can sometimes have a bit faster pulse rate.

Rates between 40-60 are considered “serious”, but may be explained by an elevated
temperature such as on a very hot day.  Also, if the horse is suddenly frightened or excited, his heart rate can become temporarily elevated on a very temporary.  Wait a few minutes and then recheck to see if the rate comes down when he is more relaxed. However, rates above 80 are considered “critical” and indicate a very serious problem.

However, ANY rate above 40, even 44, should be regarded with suspicion and evaluated in the overall picture of how the horse is feeling.

RESPIRATION:

Respiration is how hard your horse is breathing. Watch his sides as he breathes in and out and count the number of complete breaths.  Deep heavy breathing, or breathing with an extra abdominal effort, abnormal noise, labored breathing, or gasping are all indications of a serious problem.  

The normal rate for horses is between 8-12 breaths per minute. Again, many things can effect this that must be taken into consideration before considering whether it is abnormal.  One common factor is his temperature, excitement or a heavy workout.

OTHER VITAL SIGNS

While temperature, pulse and respiration are the three most common vital signs used to determine your horse’s health, there are other indicators that you may want to check and report to your veterinarian:

  • Mucus Membrane Color: The normal color is pink
  • Capillary Refill Time: After depressing the gums, the color should return within 1-2 seconds.
  • Gut sounds (borborygmus): A horse should have a normal gurgling sound on both sides of the abdomen back near the flanks.
  • Hydration: Pinch and elevate the horse’s skin over the shoulder, then let go. If it snaps back into place very quickly, your horse is properly hydrated

For a chart that can be posted next to your horse’s stall with instructions on how to take temperature, pulse and respiration, as well as normals and critical values, click HERE.

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DANGER – Summer Heat!

sweating horseHeat stress and heat stroke are extremely dangerous conditions for your horse.  Often seen in the summer months in sports such as eventing, jumping, combined driving or other strenuous activities, especially in areas where the humidity is high, heat problems can also occur simply when riding an unfit horse at your own barn when you push him too hard or he has to stand in a poorly ventilated trailer for too long. There is a difference in the causes of heat stress and heat stroke.  Heat stroke can occur over a relatively short period of time.  Heat stress, also known as heat exhaustion, usually results from protracted fluid and electrolyte loss during exhaustive exercise.

As the horse continues to work, heat builds up in his muscles.  When the number of your horse’s respiration is faster than his heart rate per minute, this is called an inversion. This is a sign of high internal body temperature and the respiratory tract is attempting to dump some of the heat load. To remove the heat, your horse sweats, pulling heat from the interior of his body to his skin in a process known as evaporative cooling. Around 70% of the heat of locomotion is normally dissipated from the body using this process.  Warm air temperature and high humidity prevent a horse from adequately dissipating internal heat from his body.

However, other horses are susceptible to heat problems as well.   Horses with a full winter coat are at risk since the hair keeps in the body heat during cold weather.  Heavily muscled horses, such as Warmblood breeds and Quarter Horses, are at greater risk of retaining heat in the working muscles than leaner-breed horses such as Arabians or Thoroughbreds (thus the preference for these breeds in endurance racing). This is because they have a lower ratio of body surface area for cooling relative to their body mass that’s generating the heat. An overweight horse with abundant fat layers beneath his skin cannot dissipate heat effectively. Transporting a horse in an enclosed van in hot weather can contribute to dehydration and heat stress. Additionally, a horse which was shipped to a warmer climate and has not been acclimated to exercise in hot and humid conditions is ill-prepared to deal with the added stress of the new environment no matter how fit he is. Most horses need at least three weeks in a warmer climate to allow their bodies to adapt and dissipate heat more efficiently.

Know your horse’s usual temperature, especially after exercise.  A rectal temperature over 103.5° is a sure sign the horse is overheating. Also know your horse’s respiration rate and heat rate and check them if you think your horse may be stressed.  Finally do the capillary refill test to check blood flow and the pinch test to test for dehydration.

horse getting showerAfter any exercise here are some steps to help your horse cool out. As you finish a workout, bring your horse to a walk. Hop off and spend a minute or two walking him so blood flow continues to flush metabolic waste products and heat from his muscles. In warm weather, copiously bathe his head, neck, and legs with cool water. Large blood vessels in these locations flush heat to the skin surface, and rapid evaporative cooling is achieved by continual sponging of these areas. Apply cool water and as it heats up, scrape it off of major muscle groups, such as over the loin and hindquarters. Offer a bucket of water to your horse immediately following exercise. Find a shady spot for an overheated horse, preferably with decent air circulation from a light breeze or fan. An enclosed space with stagnant air adds to heat retention. Fans are helpful for convective cooling–as the air flows across the horse’s body, it pulls heat off the skin. In severe cases, severe dehydration might need to be treated with Intravenous fluids.  This can also help to cool the internal organs and muscles. Talk to your veterinarian about checking your horse’s acid-base balance and electrolyte status and correct if necessary.

stall with grill and fansBe aware of the condition called anhidrosis. Some horses in hot, humid climates can lose the ability to sweat due to overworked sweat glands that lose their ability to sweat and cool himself. The horse’s skin will be dry and hot to the touch.  There may be sweaty areas under the mane and saddle or in the groin area, but no moisture when you touch it.  Stop exercise immediately and restrain the horse from further physical exertion. Move the horse to a cool location and start aggressive cooling techniques immediately. This condition can easily proceed to heat stroke.

 

So enjoy the summer with your horse.  Just be aware that too much sun, humidity and exertion can cause problems for your horse.

Portland LOVES Polo!

Horses on fieldWhen you think of the game of polo, you usually think of it taking place in The Hamptons or in Kentucky or in England. But Portland, Oregon is not only rapidly becoming a hub of great polo, but it is building a reputation of horsemen and women giving back to the community.

On July 22 and 23, 2017, the Oregon Polo Classic, presented by the Classic Wine Auction, brought together the excitement and sophistication of polo with an exceptional two-day food and wine experience. The well-attended event was held at the Hidden Creek Polo Club in West Linn, Oregon.

The weekend included a Family Day on Saturday as well an “over 21” Championship Day where guests enjoyed exciting Championship polo, delicious food, exceptional wines and more. Highlights included the ladies hat parade and judging and the “divot stomp” where spectators go onto the polo field and help replace the grass divots created by the ponies hooves.

This was the second year for the Oregon Polo Classic at Hidden Creek and proceeds from this event will benefit three non-profit organizations that assist over 30,000 children and families suffering from physical, mental, behavioral, socioeconomic and other challenges in the Portland area.

In 2005, Sean and Gretchen Keyes started creating their vision to build polo grounds and stables, with an elevated viewing area seating for spectators and immaculate polo fields that would draw international polo players to Portland to compete.  In 2008, Hidden Creek Polo Club was open and ready for play.

field and tents JPGHowever, Hidden Creek is more than just a polo club.  It’s a venue dedicated to raising money for Portland charities. In addition to their signature event, they also hosted Polo Noir on August 12th. This single-day experience celebrated the game of kings with live music and Willamette Valley wine, and featured three-time Grammy Award winning legend Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers.

Polo originated in Persia sometime between the 6th century B.C. and the 1st century A.D.  Over the centuries, it became popular in Asia, India, Argentina and Great Britain before making it to the United States in 1876.  Polo is now an active sport in 77 countries.

The United States Polo Association (USPA), the governing body for polo in the U.S., was established in 1890.  There is to promote the game of polo while overseeing the safety and welfare of participants and mounts.

In addition to the professional players at Hidden Creek, the Pacific Northwest has is home to a great many amateur, high school and college teams.  Think you might like to try polo?  Click HERE and enter your location for a listing of polo clubs in your area.

photo credit: Hidden Creek Polo Club