How do I take my horse’s digital pulse? And why is this important?
The digital pulse is a baseline indicator of what is going on in the hoof. When your horse is healthy and happy, the digital pulse should be noted so that you have a comparison in case you have suspected hoof issues. Think of it as doing a very special TPR for the hoof.
The digital pulse is often really hard to find - and this is a good thing! When the soft tissue structures in the hoof are inflamed, perhaps due to an abscess or laminitis, the digital pulse becomes stronger and may approach bounding. A bounding digital pulse is easy to detect, very strong, and a big red flag. Call the Veterinarian.
There are four locations that you can find the digital pulse, and I’ll go over the easiest one which is between the coronary band and the fetlock. The other locations are around and above the fetlock, and are harder to find if there is leg inflammation or windpuffs. The video below demonstrates how to find the digital pulse around the fetlock joint, which is the most common way to check your horse's digital pulse.
To find the pulse below the fetlock:
- Using your pointer and middle finger, start at the front of the pastern half way between the fetlock and the coronary band.
- Move your fingers towards the back of the pastern applying some pressure until you find a little groove. The groove will be roughly over the outer edge of the heel bulbs. You can roll your fingers over this area until you feel a slight pulse. If you press too hard, you will pinch it off, and not hard enough and you won’t find it.
- Each leg will have two little groovy areas to find a pulse. Be sure to check both sides on each hoof.
Where to feel below the fetlock
- Always do this when your horse is secured in the cross ties or someone is holding him.
- Place your free hand higher on your horse to be alerted to movement and remind him that you are there.
- As you squat down, don’t put your knee on the ground, just in case you need to jump up quickly and move out of the way!
- Run your fingers down his tendons, keep your fingers on the inside of his legs.
- As the tendons curve down and to the back, you will feel a soft squishy spot on the bottom portion of his fetlock joint. It's about the size of a walnut or smaller.
- If you roll your fingers back and forth, you should feel some guitar strings. That's the digital artery.
- Press lightly to feel the digital pulse, knowing that if you press too hard, you will not feel anything.
What tips do you have for taking a digital pulse?