The Heat and Your Horse

Once again, the summer show season is approaching. Where I live in the Midwest the temperatures are getting warmer and are still very comfortable. Being on spring break in Florida, I am reminded of the hot and sometimes uncomfortable temperatures that are in the southern part of the United States. With show season comes traveling horses and long rides in trailers to very warm climates. For this reason I decided to write about important things to remember when attending those horse shows with scorching temps, especially if your horse is from the north and maybe still hasn’t lost his or her winter coat. Here are 5 important tips on keeping up with the heat. 

1. The dangers of heat

Dehydration, exhaustion and heat stroke can occur due to high temperatures, which can lead to illness or even death. It is important to remember to protect your horses during trailer rides, exercise and long days of competition. 

2. Water Water Water

One of the most important things to remember when exercising your horse in hot temps is keeping them hydrated. Horses should always have access to clean drinking water. In warmer temperatures bacteria can grow more easily so this may mean dumping and rinsing out water buckets more frequently especially if they like to fill their bucket with hay and left over grain like mine does. It is also a myth that giving hot horses cold water is bad for them. There have never been any studies to prove that this is a fact so keep the H2O flowing no matter what! Hosing down your horse with cool and normal temperature water is a good way to keep their body temps regulated because evaporation produces cooling. 

3. Shade and ventilation

Providing as much shade as possible can lesson your chances of unfavorable outcomes even in hotter weather. It is also important that trailers and barns are well ventilated. Having at least two windows open in the trailer can provide much needed cross ventilation. Try to circulate the air in barns by using fans. Always make sure to keep the cords away from the horses to prevent any accidents.

4. Activity

Limit the amount of activity you require your horse to do on those extra warm days. Try for shorter rides and more frequent breaks while encouraging them to drink water. It may also be beneficial to save the more strenuous rides for the early mornings or late nights when the heat is not so intense. You can use the Heat Stress Index to determine the conditions that will most likely result in illness. This is the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit plus the percent of humidity. According to hygain.com.au, “when the sum of the ambient temperature in degrees Fahrenheit and the relative humidity is around 150, the rider should use caution in exercising the horse so heat build up doesn’t become critical.”

5. What to look for

When assessing whether or not your horse is in danger, remember the following:

  • Difficulty breathing, being distressed and weak, developing diarrhea or colic need immediate attention
  • Mucous membranes should feel slimy and not dry
  • Check capillary refill time – push on your horse’s gum, which should start out pink, go to white after pressure and return to pink in about 1 second.
  • Check the elasticity of the skin – pinch an inch or two of skin on the neck in front of the shoulder and let go. The skin should snap back immediately.

Always offer your horse the option of plain water and in addition to water with electrolytes if you choose to do so. Remember to use your common sense and if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. This may mean it is time to call your vet and have your horse checked out and provided with treatment.

To read more and see where I got my information visit these great websites:

- Kerry Hansen

Picture credits:

  • http://queryhorse.com/toppages/articles/horsewasharea.asp
  • http://myhorse.com/blogs/horse-care/colic-horse-care/equine-guelph-how-to-prevent-winter-colic/attachment/horse-drinking-water/