Kentucky Performance Products: Your Horse’s Vital Signs

Know your horse’s vital signs.

Canva/Cathy Yeulet/CC

Check your horse’s vital signs when he or she is at rest so you can determine what is normal.


  • A normal horse takes in about 1.25 gallons of air with each breath.
  • At 12 breaths per minute a horse will take in 15 gallons of air per minute.

Normal resting respiration     Breaths per minute

Mature horses                                  8 – 24

Newborn foals                                 60 – 80

Older foals                                        20 – 40

What can cause an abnormal elevated respiration rate and eff­ort?

  • Pain
  • Fever
  • Heat stress or heat stroke
  • Respiratory illness/distress
  • Strenuous exercise beyond what the horse is capable of

During exercise the respiration rate can go as high as: 180 breaths per minute.

Abnormal respiration rates should be reported to your veterinarian. Horses in acute respiratory distress should be treated immediately.


The resting heart will pump about 10 gallons of blood per minute. When working at maximum capacity it can pump 65 to 75 gallons of blood per minute!

Normal resting heart rate for an adult horse: 28-44 Beats Per Minute (BPM).  Horses with a resting heart rate of over 50 bpm should be evaluated.

Heart rates in young horses

Age                           BPM

Newborn foals      80-100

Older foals             60-80

2-year-olds             45-65

Heart rates in exercising horses*

Activity                BPM

Walking               80

Trotting               130

Cantering            180

Galloping            200

*Maximum heart rate 200-240

What can cause an abnormal increase in resting heart rate?

  • Excitement
  • Stress
  • Pain
  • Infection
  • Illness


  • A ­fit horse’s heart rate will return to normal within 15 minutes after exercise has ended.
  • A horse that is working toward increasing his fitness level will recover within 30 minutes.
  • A horse that is exercising beyond his ­fitness level will take longer than 30 minutes to recover.


Temperature in adult horses

  • 98° to 101.5° is the NORMAL range for adult horses.
  • 2° to 3° higher than your horse’s normal is a SLIGHT fever.
  • 4° higher than your horse’s normal is a HIGH fever.
  • 105° or more Call your vet.

Temperature in foals

A foal that is less than one month old will have a normal temperature range between 100°F and 102°F. Foals are at greater risk for either overheating or hypothermia because of their smaller body mass.

What can cause a high temperature?

POSSIBLE CAUSE – Strenuous exercise can increase a horse’s body temperature a couple of degrees.

CONSULT YOUR VET – If temperature doesn’t return to normal within 90 minutes of fi­nishing work.

POSSIBLE CAUSE – Illness or infection can cause a rise in body temperature.

CONSULT YOUR VET – If your horse has an unexplained high fever.

POSSIBLE CAUSE – Heat stress or heat stroke in horses that are sick, working, being shipped or otherwise stressed in hot, humid conditions.

CONSULT YOUR VET – If your horse’s temperature reaches 105° or more.

POSSIBLE CAUSE – Vaccinations can lead to elevated body temperatures in some horses.

CONSULT YOUR VET – If fever persists more than a day.

Download the infographic here.

About Kentucky Performance Products, LLC:

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