It’s true: the heart of a horse is truly something to marvel at. Never mind the fact that a horse’s heart is much larger than our own, but the capabilities it has to support a supreme athlete such as a horse are enough to leave us mind boggled.
As horse owners, it’s important to understand our horse’s bodies so that we can best support them for their jobs and prime health.
In this first part of our new blog series on Heart Rate Knowledge, we’ll be diving into different aspects of horse heart health and how to best use heart rate in your training and care. And understanding your own heart rate and fitness levels is key, too! We’ll be exploring the concept of rider fitness more in the coming weeks.
Where is the horse’s heart?
The horse’s heart is located in the thoracic cavity, between the lungs. Looking at the horse from the left side, the heart is located between the elbow and shoulder.
Hylofit Hack: When placing Hylofit on your horse, make sure that the top and bottom electrodes (indicated by two patches on the underside of the Girth Attachment) are on either side of the heart. Typically, this will place the lower electrode by the horse’s elbow and the upper up near the withers, most often underneath the saddle pad or flap. Click here to see examples of proper placement.
The equine heart is an amazing organ. With each contraction, the heart can pump 1 liter of blood. This means that horses performing at peak performance can pump upwards of 200 liters of blood per minute. The horse’s heart is also heavy - on average, it weighs 1% of a horse’s body weight. With that logic, a 1,000 pound horse’s heart can weigh about 10 pounds!
What are normal heart rate ranges for a horse?
It’s important to remember that every horse’s averages will be different from the next. These ranges serve as guides, but tracking your horse’s heart rate regularly will yield a more accurate picture of her ranges.
Unlike humans, there is not much evidence to support the idea that resting heart rate (RHR) lowers with increased fitness. However, a horse that is gaining fitness should see A) a quicker heart rate recovery (HRR) after exercise and B) a lower average heart rate during work performed at the same speed/work effort as before.
We’ll dive more into heart rate and fitness in another blog!
Do horses have a Maximum Heart Rate (MaxHR) like humans?
Yes and no. Fit, mature horses at peak performance (think racehorses and top event horses) can reach a max of 240 beats per minute. A more generalized MaxHR for most other horses is 220. However, the only way to properly determine your horse’s MaxHR is through a lactate test administered by your veterinarian.
Truth be told, most riders will not need to know this and can operate with an assumed MaxHR. For example, Hylofit’s app defaults to 180 bpm, and while this is low and can be adjusted for each horse, we felt it was important to start low to prevent overtraining.
Coming next: How do you use heart rate in your training and horse care?