The digital pulse is the pulse flowing through the artery to the hoof and is a useful tool in determining if a horse has inflammation in the hoof capsule. It is also useful in determining if a horse could be suffering from Laminitis.
If there is inflammation in the hoof then this pulse tends to feel like it’s ‘bounding’ – it is much stronger and fuller than normal.
The digital pulse in a healthy horse is relatively weak and soft, so if there’s nothing wrong with your horse you may find it difficult to feel. Every horse is a bit different, so it is a good idea to get familiar with your horse’s regular digital pulse. That way, when it changes due to an abscess, laminitis or other hoof pathology, you’ll be able to pick it up!
There are a few different positions where you can take this pulse, find one that works for you and use the same position every time.
The artery that is used to monitor the digital pulse runs in the groove between the flexor tendons and the suspensory ligament. The artery then jumps over the collateral sesamoidean ligament at the fetlock and continues down the pastern into the hoof.
Here is a photo showing the tendons, ligaments, artery path and common pulse positions – although you may choose anywhere along the artery to actually feel for the pulse.
Get familiar with your horses' digital pulse, learn what is normal for your horse and take it regularly. This way you will quickly be able to detect a problem if the pulse changes.
You may find that your horses coat has already started shedding, this is triggered by the longer daylight hours and marks the start of the long winter coat loss! This process will continue over the next few months and it's important to provide adequate nutritional support during this time to encourage a healthy and shiny new summer coat.