How to find your horse’s digital pulse.

 

The digital pulse is a baseline indicator of what is going on in the hoof.  Finding your horse’s digital pulse is another thing – and strangely, it’s sometimes best if you can’t find it. 

 

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The horse’s digital pulse is part of the vital signs.

 

  • When your horse is healthy and happy, the digital pulse should be noted so that you can compare in case you have suspected hoof issues. Think of it as doing a special TPR (Temp, pulse, and respiration) for the hoof.

 

  • The digital pulse is often hard to find – 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 where 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 videos below demonstrate how to find the digital pulse around the fetlock joint, which is the most common way to check your horse’s digital pulse.

 

There are lots of reasons why a horse may develop a strong digital pulse, not the least of which is lamitis.  Read about founder in the horse hoof here.

 

Find your horse’s digital pulse below the fetlock:

 

  • Using your pointer and middle finger, start at the front of the pastern halfway 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.
 

digital pulse area on the pastern

Where to feel below the fetlock

 

  • Always do this when your horse is secured in the crossties 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!
 

Or try this way to find the digital pulse around the fetlock, a bit higher.

 
  • Run your fingers down his tendons, and 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.
 
  • You should feel some guitar strings if you roll your fingers back and forth. That’s the digital artery.
 
  • Press lightly to feel the digital pulse, knowing that if you press too hard, you will not feel anything.
 
 
check your horse's digital pulse
 
My fingers are on the soft squishy spot with the guitar strings.  Press about halfway down. Pressing too hard blocks traffic and you won’t feel anything.
 

 

This video shows you how the digital artery “works” to check your horse’s hoof health.  Inflammation in the hoof has nowhere to go – it’s trapped by a hard shell. 

 

 

This video shows you how to measure the digital pulse.  As a general rule of thumb, no news is good news.  If there’s no pulse, everything should be normal. There’s always the exception, though.

 

 

For a complete guide to leg and hoof grooming, this article has you covered!

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