February is here, and that means Valentine’s Day! What better time to think about the heart of a horse? Of course your horse has “heart” – he jumps that jump from a distance you know was way too long, and he’ll walk across the scary stream on the trail because you ask him to do so. And, of course, he gives you kisses when you provide treats! What about the actual heart of a horse?
Did you know that in Thoroughbreds, the heart weighs on average 9-11% of body weight? So, for a 1000-lb horse, that’s 9-11 pounds. To put that in perspective, that’s similar to what an average house cat or a medium sized bowling ball weighs! Wow! By comparison, a human heart weighs somewhere in the range of 0.5 – 0.8 pounds, and is about the size of your fist! That’s more along the lines of a guinea pig or a package of 4 sticks of butter.
Like the human heart, the equine heart has 4 chambers that work together to pump blood through the body. The right side of the heart pumps blood to the lungs where is picks up oxygen. The left side pumps blood with fresh oxygen to all the other places in the body, like working muscles, the brain and even your digestive system!
The heart sure has a big job to do. It must beat constantly to maintain life. While just hanging out in the pasture or in the stall, a horse’s normal heart rate is usually in the range of 30-40 beats per minute (bpm), but during exercise can go as high as 245 bpm! That’s a lot of work! Compare that to an average human, with a resting heartbeat of 60-80 bpm that goes up to about 200 bpm in a young adult during heavy exercise. That’s quite a difference! (Check out our latest fact sheet, FS1262, to learn more about how to measure heart rate in horses!)
The horse is a unique and phenomenal athlete with incredible capability. You may now have new respect for how much “heart” your horse really has! This Valentine’s day, give your horse some extra kisses. Show your love of the horse by learning – join us for Horses 2017 on March 18-19 where equine experts will teach you just about everything you want to know about horses! https://esc.rutgers.edu/outreach-events/horses-2017/
Until Next Time!