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.

Understanding Western Dressage Scores

Understanding Western Dressage Scores

Article co-written by Dr. Mike Guerini ( and the leadership team of North American Western Dressage (

In quite a few western disciplines (Reining, Ranch Riding, Ranch Versatility, Cow horse, etc.) the horse and rider begin with a score of 70 upon entering the arena. Based on the performance of each maneuver/movement, your score can remain the same or go up or down with a change of 1 1⁄2 points. Larger penalties of 2 or 5 points do exist.

Western Dressage scores are the same as Traditional Dressage, but are different from the scoring methods used for the more well known western disciplines. In dressage, each horse and rider team are given a numerical score on each of the movements in the test. The score for every movement can range from 0 to 10 points.

With the growing excitement in competing in Western Dressage, many western equestrians are looking to better understand what their scores mean.

Each movement is scored with the numeric value shown below. We can look at the numbers and what they mean to you as a rider in a little more detail by adding a few more descriptive words or thoughts.

10 Excellent­­­­­­: Very rarely given. It means as good as it gets or ever can get: horse is giving 100% of its potential.

9 Very Good: ­­­­­­Not often awarded; be very proud when they appear on your score sheet.

8 Good:­­­­­­­­­­­­ An appropriate level of engagement/carriage, straightness, connection, etc. for the test being ridden.

7 Fairly Good: ­­­­­­A good mark, horse still showing a need to mature in strength and consistency which will add “promptness” and precision to the movement or maybe a minor inaccuracy such as a misstep here or there that prevented a score of 8.

6 Satisfactory: ­­­­The movement was obedient and accurate, marred by outline or a slight lack of straightness or insufficient impulsion. The mark tells you, you and your horse are headed in the correct direction in your training and you just need some more time and practice..

5 Sufficient: ­­­­­­­­Horse was generally obedient, but maybe lacked impulsion, was too much on the forehand, showed irregular tempo at times (broke gait for a few steps), lacks balance (leans in curving lines rather than bending).

4 Insufficient: ­­­­­A serious inaccuracy occurred: counter bent, rough transition, head tossing, resisting the bit by carry his head high with neck inverted or over bending his neck so his nose is behind the vertical, geometry error.

3 Fairly Bad: ­­­­­­­A serious problem occurred; lack of control, very late or fluffed transitions, stumbling, horse never straight through body, avoiding rider control by swinging haunches in or out continually and excessively.

2 Bad: ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Now we’re talking severe disobedience; bucking; rearing; napping.

1 Very Bad: ­­­­­­­­­The horse must have bolted through the movement to receive this!

0 Not Performed: ­­­Self­-explanatory. Horse did not perform any of the required movement (for example ­­ failing to strike off in lope and continuing in a jog).

Western Dressage Scores may also include half points. A 0.5 can be awarded to any whole number. If the movement was better than a 6 but not quite the level of a 7, the judge is free to indicate it by awarding a 6.5.

What the numbers really mean

A “5” is a passing grade; the movement was performed, but it was slightly flawed or not overwhelmingly impressive. Think “so­so” or “just OK”.  A “6” is a bit above average and “7” is rather good. Anything of “8” and above are very good, with “9” and “10” being extremely rare scores. A “4” means “needs improvement” and below 4 typically indicates something went wrong.

A low score means you should practice that movement more.

How to use your score to help you decide when it is right to move up

If you are scoring mostly 5s, with some scores higher or lower, you are showing at the correct level. If you are scoring mostly 6s, with frequent 7s or higher, you should consider moving up a level and challenging yourself and your horse with more difficult movements. North American Western Dressage, with the NAWD Stars program, suggests that three scores of 65% or higher is a good indicator that you should move up.

At the end of the tests, the total points you received are divided by the total points possible for the test and this number is turned into a percentage and that is how your score is represented.

We hope this helps you to better understand the value of the numerical score on your dressage test.

Enjoy the ride!

Grandson of Alydar – Starving in a Creek Bed – Saved by a Rescue – 2nd life in Western Dressage

Grandson of Alydar – Starving in a Creek Bed – Saved by a Rescue – 2nd life in Western Dressage

Grandson of Alydar – Starving in a Creek Bed – Saved by a Rescue – 2nd life in Western Dressage

by Dr. Mike Guerini, Ph.D. (

The story of any great Thoroughbred might begin with talks of Man O’ War…some people may immediately think of Secretariat and of course many will think of Seabiscuit.  Hollywood has done a fabulous job of sharing with us the greatness that comes with a Champion Thoroughbred.  Not every story is full of wins, accolades and trophies…many have what we might call lesser stories and on this day I would like to share with you a different story – a magical story – one in which the participants play with “Cover Magic”.

In November of 2014 I met two ladies and an Off the Track Thoroughbred.  Cover Magic is his racing name – Chandler is what we call him at the barn.  The story begins with the great Alydar who went on to be a top sire in the late 80’s and early 90’s — Alydar’s progeny won at a top level for so many years.  Well as a top line, it was bound to be well represented throughout the thoroughbred racing industry.

Cover Magic, a grandson of Alydar, has over $200,000 in career earnings…yet, when he came to the end of his racing career…there was no fanfare when he retired.  Cover Magic was sold and his trainer moved on to the next horse in the barn … all the while thinking and believing that Cover Magic had gone to a good home.

Our story jumps to just a few years ago.  Laura and her team from Perfect Fit Equine Rescue in Morgan Hill California were called to the local Humane society.  A large horse had been found abandoned and in very poor condition in a creek bed.  He was not using his right hind leg very well.  Part of Laura’s team consists of a deeply knowledgeable horsewoman  …Ruth who just recently turned 70. Ruth immediately jumped in and saved the tail on Cover Magic when the human society officer thought it would be best to cut it all off.  Ruth spent hours getting the tail combed out.

Perfect Fit Equine Rescue brought Cover Magic home and cared for him and adopted him out…but it never quite worked out.  What to do with an Off the Track Thoroughbred (OTTB) that wants to run and has energy.  Nobody was quite sure.  After the third trial adoption did not work, Angie, a friend of Ruth’s looked at Ruth with stars in her eyes and said “Let us co-own this lovely horse” and Ruth stepped in and said “Enough – he is now mine and Angie’s.”

You thought the story was pretty good so far…it gets way better.

Ruth and Angie continued to rehab Cover Magic.  Lots of Groundwork and Round Pen work.  A Dressage trainer spent some time working with them on getting that partnership these two ladies desired.  About 18 months ago, Ruth hit a point in her life where the right knee had become useless and she had a choice – To have the knee replaced so she could ride again – or to just let the knee continue to deteriorate until she had to have surgery and likely hobble around.  One evening, Ruth had a conversation with Cover Magic and the two decided that surgery for Ruth was the best option. Her family could not convince her to have surgery…but the Love of this OTTB – helped her decide.

Ruth rehabed her knee and Angie continued to work with Cover Magic.  The first few rides for Ruth on Cover Magic after her surgery were not the most successful —  a few slide off’s, a near fall, and what seems like a clear fall and bump.  Was this story to come to an end? Had the knee surgery been for not?

 A friend of mine at the rescue called and asked me to see if I had anything I could figure out to help give Ruth the chance she wanted. I pulled out Mom’s new Saddle from Charles Wilhelm that was set up right to help mom with her balance (mom is 70+) and went and told Ruth I had a plan.  We got Ruth on Chandler and she had a successful ride, followed by another successful ride and another success.  Before I knew it Angie was also riding (Ruth and Angie purchased a saddle from Charles) and we were all making plans…  – These plans were to get Cover Magic into his second career…..a career as a dressage horse.

In comes North American Western Dressage (NAWD) and the Virtual Show format.  Because virtual shows allow you to show at home and these ladies did not have a trailer we had a plan. NAWD is a leader in virtual shows and along with Cover Magic making his debut, other riders at Perfect Fit Equine Rescue all made their first Western Dressage rides…and they plan to be back with more rides in July 2015.

Angie and Cover Magic made their show debut with the North American Western Dressage May 2015 Trailblazers show.  Using the Level 1, Test 1 from North American Western Dressage, Angie and Chandler scored a very respectable 61%…both had never been in a dressage show in their life.  Now you may be asking — how about Ruth’s ride.  Well she sat on the sidelines watching and coaching because just a few days after the show, she had to go back to the hospital for surgery yet again (she is doing great and itching to ride)…and the reason she went back in is because she and Cover Magic had a conversation once again about their dreams…and they still have a dream to show in 2015.

Are you ready to ride? Can you see yourself having fun with a little showing? Did you think your dream of showing was falling apart — well Perfect Fit Equine Rescue and North American Western Dressage have shown you the way.  Rescued horses, Western Dressage tests .. and some good old determination….this is what good horsemanship is about….this is what great Thoroughbred Race Horses accomplish…this is what two young friends can do when they set out to make the world better for at least one horse….this is what a 70 year old lady can do when she still wants to ride as she did when she was 16….this is what YOU can do with a virtual show opportunity.

If you are pursuing your dreams and Western Dressage is one of your goals, make sure to seek out a Western Dressage Professional (CLICK HERE) to assist you and your horse on the road to success.


Angie with Chandler (aka Cover Magic)


Ruth riding Chandler (aka Cover Magic)

— If you enjoyed reading of  this success, consider working with your local rescue and seeing how you can help them or consider donating to Perfect Fit Equine Rescue so they can continue to serve the horses in need.


Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician and Lifetime Founding Pioneer of the Western Dressage Association of America, Professional member and Licensed Judge from North America Western Dressage, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction 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.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (