Vital signs basically tell you how your horse is feeling and if everything is okay. After working with horses for years you will notice often right away if something is not right. Did your horse eat all his food? Did he drink as much as he usually does? Does he seem droopier than usual? Feel the tips of his ears, are they warm? If any of these actions get you suspicious you need to take your horses temperature. Ideally you would take the temperature in the morning before your horse has been moved from the stall because after exercise his temperature is always higher than normally. When new horses come from the auction or if there is any sick horses around, all the horses should be monitored daily for their temperatures.
So how do you take your horses temperature? You guessed it, from behind underneath his tail. I prefer using those white digital thermometers which peep after two minutes when the temperature has settled. They are so quick that you can hold the thermometer yourself making sure it does not fell or slip inside or the worst case scenario, brake.
I dip the thermometer to the Vaseline making it easier and more comfortable to use. If you use the old fashion mercury thermometer you should attach a string to it and a clothes peg so you can snap the peg to the horses tail while waiting for the time. Every time you get a new horse to your barn you should take his temp few days to figure out what his normal temperature is, so you have better idea if he is sick or not later on. Our thumb of rule is that if the horse has over 101 F he will stay in, if the temp is between 102-103 or higher you should call your veterinarian. But again this varies from horse to horse, some are sick if they have only 100 F so get to know your horses normal temperature right away.
Pulse tells a horse trainer lot about his horse and today heart rate monitors are common tools used while training a horse. You will attach the monitor to your harness or saddle on the side of the horse little higher from behind their front legs. These monitors will tell the trainer how quickly horse recovers from his work and if this training was hard (too hard?) or not. It will also show higher pulse rates if horse is sick so trainer will address the issue right away.
You can also use manual old fashion “doctor” type monitor by just placing it on the same spot normally 10 minutes after the exercise. there is different ways to calculate, some do 30 seconds, some count for 60 seconds. Normally that pulse is about 50 beats for a minute and under and in the heavy training it can peek to up to 200 beats. Another pulse spot is close to their hooves by the ankle, if your horse have sore feet or puss pockets in them you can feel the pulse on their foot.
To me one of the vital signs telling about the horse is his coat, if it looks dull and is longer than it should be on the warm months something is wrong. Deworming would be the first action followed by dental exam and maybe a blood test to see if everything is in the normal levels.
Then there is the old trick about pinching your horses neck. If his skin bounces right back he is fine. If the skin stays wrinkly for a bit from your pinch, horse is most likely dehydrated and some salt or electrolytes and sufficient water supply is needed. He might be suffering from the ulcers, they are very common in the race horses and foals no matter how well you take care of them.
It is essential to check horses vital signs routinely every day, normally just making sure he seems fine is enough, and does not take that long. It is much easier to treat the horse if you find out right away that something is not right. Don’t be afraid to call a vet if you have a bad gut feeling about your horse, preventive care is the key to keep a happy horse!