Step 1: Squat down on the side of your horse’s left front leg, and place your index finger around the left side of the fetlock joint at its lower edge.
Step 2: Apply pressure with your finger, and strum (run your finger from side to side, as though strumming a guitar) around the fetlock joint, until you feel a cordlike bundle (consisting of vein, artery, and nerve) “snap” underneath your touch.
Step 3: Apply pressure to this bundle for 5 to 10 seconds until you feel a pulse. (Note: If you can’t find a pulse, adjust the amount of pressure you’re placing on the bundle. If you press too hard, you’ll cut off blood flow-therefore the pulse. If you press too softly, you won’t create enough resistance to feel the pulse at all. Don’t get frustrated-practice!)
Step 4: Now here’s the tricky part. You need to determine whether your horse’s digital pulse is throbbing abnormally. It helps to know what a healthy pulse feels like-but you can’t always find a pulse on a healthy leg/hoof. It might be too faint. On the other hand, you’ll know he has a problem if you can easily find his digital pulse. (If you’re not sure, consult your veterinarian or knowledgeable friend.)
Step 5: Repeat Steps 1 through 4 on your horse’s other three legs.
Barb Crabbe is an Oregon-based equine practitioner specializing in performance horses. She’s also an active dressage competitor, winning state championships in 1994 and 1996, and the United States Dressage Association Horse of the Year in 1997.
This article first appeared in the June, 2001 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.