After teaching camp for a local Pony Club and recently working on creating better lesson plans for the Pony Club website, we found out how many of our lower level members have trouble understanding the term, “taking the T,P,R” for a horse, or knowing their horses’ resting T,P,R.

The vet box

The vet box

What is TPR?

Short for Temperature, Pulse, and Respiration, taking your horses TPR should be routine for general horse care. Knowing your horses resting TPR can be helpful to your vet if there is ever an issue with your horse. An issue can be illness, fatigue, poor performance, and general wellness. Every horse has “ranges” their resting temperature, pulse, and respiration are considered normal. The same as people, there are exceptions to every rule, but most horses fall within the ranges given. For Pony Club standards the normal range for temperature is 98.5-101 degrees Fahrenheit. The normal pulse rate for a horse is 30-45 beats per minute (BPM), and the normal respiration rate is 8-16 breaths per minute.

What do I need?

The next part of knowing your horses’ resting TPR is knowing how to check it. For this you will need a few tools. To take the temperature you will need a thermometer; digital is more common, but some people still use glass thermometers, a lubricant (preferably water based since Petroleum Jelly is an insulator), rubbing alcohol, and a small towel. For pulse rate you can use your hand, but a stethoscope makes it easier and a watch. And for respiration, just using your eyes and hands will work, but you will still need a watch.

Taking Temperature, the basics.

Taking Temperature

Taking Temperature

First and foremost you should have a handler to hold the horse while you take the temperature. The handler needs to stand on the same side as the person taking the temperature and be facing towards that person to keep both the handler and the temperature taker safe in case the horse is wary of what is happening. The temperature is taken in the horses’ rectum. Before inserting the thermometer, dip it in the lubricant. Stand to the side of the horses’ hip, as close as you can safely get without standing under the horse, pull the tail to the side, press the button to turn the digital thermometer on, and insert it into the horses’ rectum. Gently hold it there until the thermometer “beeps”. Once you have read the temperature, clean the thermometer with rubbing alcohol and dry with a towel.

Pulse rate, the easy way
Taking a pulse can be slightly trickier than taking temperature. This is not because it is near “firing range” for a horses hind legs, but because sometimes finding the vein on some horses is difficult. There are 4 different, fairly easy “pulse points”. They are: just under the eye, just under the jaw line, at the heart girth, and at the pastern. It takes some practice to get a good pulse just using your hand, so if it is difficult, the use of a stethoscope can make your life a lot easier. Practice taking the pulse by placing two fingers on each of the pulse points to see if you can feel the vein “pulsing” under your fingers. If you can, then using the watch, count how many times you feel the vein pulse in 15 seconds. Multiply your total by 4 and you have your resting pulse. If finding the pulse is difficult with your fingers, use the stethoscope, placed just behind the elbow on the heart girth to get an accurate reading. Taking time with the stethoscope is the same. It is important to note, feeling a pulse at the pastern joint is not necessarily good for tracking a resting heart rate. If you can feel the pulse in the pastern it can mean your horse is experiencing some hoof pain, so the pulse might be higher than a resting rate.

Last, not least, Respiration rate

The respiration rate is the easiest to assess on horses. For this you only need to use your eyes and hands to see and feel the horse breathing. Have a handler hold your horse still and you can watch the horses ribs rise and fall or feel the horse taking a breath from his nose and count. The same as pulse, you would count each breath (in then out counts as 1) for 15 seconds and then multiply your total by 4 to get the resting respiration rate. If your horse is hard to see breathe or breathes very quietly out of his nose, you can also utilize a stethoscope to listen to the horses lungs to “hear” them breathing.

As always, refer to the Pony Club manuals for more information on best practices when taking the temperature, pulse, and respiration for your horse. The most comprehensive information resides in the USPC C-Manual (2nd edition), pgs 194-197.