What do you need to know about the circulatory system of horses?
A few things, which are totally important, and maybe some other interesting things. As a horse owner, knowing a little bit about your horse’s heart can help you spot problems early. Pretty crucial, as the heart is the main player in the circulatory system. It’s also vital for your Veterinarian to check your horse’s circulatory system during routine visits, just to be sure the ticker is ticking correctly.
The components of the circulatory system include the heart, spleen, blood and blood vessels, and the frog. Yes, the triangle thing on the sole of your horse’s hoof.
Starting at the heart, which weighs anywhere from 8 to 16 lbs, the circulatory system’s main function is to deliver oxygen to your horse’s muscles. The spleen functions to remove dead red blood cells from circulation, as well as being a warehouse for fresh and new red blood cells. The spleen can also release extra blood cells into circulation when your horse is exerting himself. This allows more oxygen to be carried throughout his body. Blood vessels carry all of the good stuff around your horse, like blood.
Blood itself has many components and functions, including delivering oxygen and getting rid of carbon dioxide throughout the body. Some cells, the white blood cells, are part of the immune system and help to ward off infection. Don’t forget about clotting factors, which aid in wound healing.
The horse’s frog works to pump blood up the horse’s leg. When a horse steps, the frog pushes into the digital cushion. This forces blood out of the digital cushion and back up the horse’s leg. No match for gravity.
A horse's digital pulse gives you valuable insight into what's going on in the hoof.
You can get a feel (literally) for your horse’s circulatory system by checking his pulse. I know you all check TPR daily. So, you already know your horse’s baseline pulse, somewhere around 36 beats per minute. Here’s the wacky part - it can beat up to 250 beats per minute during galloping exercise. A horse with a resting pulse that is above normal indicates pain, nervousness or excitement, dehydration (bad), fever, infection, heart or lung disease. It’s also a response to massive blood loss. A lower than normal heart rate indicates heart disease, pressure on the brain, or general circulation problems. Call the Vet! For info on checking TPR, read this article.
You can also check your horse’s digital pulse to get a quick feel into what’s going on inside the hoof. Generally speaking, a healthy hoof has a barely discernible pulse, but an inflamed hoof will have a strong or bounding digital pulse. Call the Vet! To learn how to check your horse's digital pulse, this article has a video for you.
You can also get a glimpse into your horse’s circulatory health by checking his gums. Capillary refill time is the time it takes for the pink color to return to this gums after you press on them. Two seconds is good. Blue, red, or super pales gums are all a super reason to call the Vet. Also call the Vet if you find white, gray, or yellow gums. Ok, any color but normal pink, call the Vet.
The easiest way for you to monitor your horse’s circulatory and heart heart is to check his gums and TPR daily! Super easy.