Competition – Vital Signs – Welfare – Are you doing all you can?

Competition – Vital Signs – Welfare – Are you doing all you can?

by Dr. Mike Guerini,

As a former Emergency Medical Technician and a former Veterinary Assistant, I know that monitoring vital signs for both human and horse give me just a little bit of information as to what is going to happen – before it happens. When I coach people at shows, I make it my responsibility for monitoring the vitals of horse and rider. Are you doing the same for yourself and your horse?

This is not about being a worrier – this is not about being paranoid – this IS about welfare of both horse and rider. We have an obligation to those we coach, to our horses, and to ourselves to be keeping track of our health through the day, especially at times of competition, training, traveling — well just about any time we are working as horse or rider.

Temperature, pulse, and respiration (TPR)–are the absolute basics every horse owner or caretaker should know if they want to take the best care of their animals and themselves. These three vital signs are just the bare bones of a physical examination but they can let us know if we are about to have a big problem.

Let us review the HORSE NORMALS:

The normal rectal temperature of a horse is 99.5-101.5°F (37.5-38.6ºC).

The normal heart rate for most horses is 32-36 beats per minute (some a little higher and some a little lower).

The normal respiratory rate for adult horses is 8 to 12 breaths per minute.

Let us review the HUMAN NORMALS:

The normal temperature of a person is 97.8-99.0°F (36.5-37.2ºC).

The normal heart rate for most people is 60 to 100 beats per minute (some a little higher and some a little lower).

The normal respiratory rate for humans is 12 to 16 breaths per minute.

Needed Tools

A digital thermometer, an inexpensive stethoscope, and a watch (or stopwatch) is all you need. If a stethoscope is not handy, the pulse can be taken from the lingual artery, which is on the bottom side of the jaw where it crosses over the bone for the horse. If a stethoscope is available, then listen to the heart on the left side of the horse’s chest, just behind the elbow. Each “lub-dub” of the heart is considered one beat.

For the human, the pulse can The pulse can be found on the side of the neck, on the inside of the elbow, or at the wrist. For most people, it is easiest to take the pulse at the wrist. If you use the lower neck, be sure not to press too hard, and never press on the pulses on both sides of the lower neck at the same time to prevent blocking blood flow to the brain. When taking your pulse: Using the first and second fingertips, press firmly but gently on the arteries until you feel a pulse.

The Powers of Observation

I believe that the beginning of a really good physical examination begins with observation. This applies to veterinarians, horse owners, medical technicians, etc. A great deal can be learned about the rider or horse just by observing posture, attitude, and environment. That rider that seems to be getting panicky or not paying attention — sure fire sign that the rider needs a timeout and some recovery time.

Same thing for a horse — if the horse does not look right … time for a timeout and to check vitals.


Every equine professional (trainer, coach, instructor) has an absolute obligation to make monitoring of vital signs part of what he or she does in training and competition. Every rider has a supreme responsibility to monitor the health of the horse during any and all rides…and especially during competition. There sure is a great deal of things to do when helping people train, show, learn, or compete —- but the welfare of the horse and the rider needs to come first.

Let us look into 2016 and make sure that we are prepared to monitor vital signs of all those we coach, show, instruct and ride….every horse and rider matters…and if you see a rider or a horse in distress at a show – step up and offer to help.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a national clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in Performance based riding, Western Dressage and understanding your horse and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (, an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.