Summer might feel like a long way off, but this is the ideal time to think about how best to care for your horse in the hot weather months.
There is nothing quite like being outdoors with your horse in the summer. However, the summer heat can be very draining on your horse and cause a range of heat-related illnesses.
Hot weather puts horses at risk for dehydration, heat-stroke, sunburn, fatigue, diarrhea, colic, fatigue, and a general feeling of exhaustion. Like us humans, it’s important that you take extra precautions to protect your horse from the effects of heat, humidity, and sun.
Your Horse and Hot Summer Riding and Work
When you take your horse out for a ride in the summer heat and humidity, this is what happens:
- As your horse heats up, they start sweating. This can result in your horse losing two to four gallons of water an hour. In this water, your horse is losing salt and electrolytes.
- Your horse feels thirsty when the salt levels in their blood are high. The salt levels do rise when your horse loses water. However, because horse sweat is salty, the blood levels of salt also drop, resulting in your horse never getting a really strong signal to drink and rehydrate.
- Horse sweat contains dissolved minerals and electrolytes that are critical for maintaining bodily functions. Additionally, horse sweat provides a protein-rich barrier that helps cool your horse and limit sweat evaporation.
- Your horse loses electrolytes and salt which can lead to dehydration, constricted blood vessels, heat exhaustion and low energy. This can result in damage to your horse’s heart, muscles, digestive track, and brain.
You cannot take risks with your horse in the summer. Pay attention to your horse’s mood, energy levels, skin and coat health, and drinking habits.
If you notice any changes in your horse’s behavior, mood, or energy levels, do not hesitate – contact your veterinarian. It’s better to be overly cautious than having your horse suffer a heat-related illness.
How to Keep Your Horse Hydrated
Hot weather is very draining on your horse and puts them at risk for dehydration. It’s important that on hot or humid days that you pay attention to your horse’s workload.
The more active your horse is in the heat and humidity, the more critical it is to keep your horse hydrated. We know that it can be hard to get your horse to drink and that some horses are very picky about when and how they drink.
To keep your horse hydrated, remember these four tips:
- Spray your horse with mist: horses absorb moisture through their skin, making misting a great way to keep your horse cool. Use either a horse misting system or hose to spray your horse down regularly throughout the day. Remember, not all horses are comfortable being sprayed – pay attention to how your horse reacts to misting and adjust the water pressure accordingly.
- Use salt to get your horse drinking: some horses can be very stubborn and picky when it comes to drinking. To encourage your horse to drink, use a salt block or spray some hay with saltwater.
- Soak food with water: horses easily absorb water when they eat food that is drenched or soaked with water.
- Give your horse multiple water options: some horses are happy to drink water with added electrolytes and some absolutely refuse. Of course, this preference can change day-to-day. Make sure your horse has multiple fresh water sources available, with and without electrolytes.
Remember that the heat quickly turns fresh cold water into warm stagnant water. Change your horse’s water regularly and pay attention to the amount of water your horse is drinking.
How to Keep Your Horse Safe and Comfortable in Hot Weather
Follow these nine tips to keep your horse safe and comfortable in hot weather:
- Ride in a covered arena that has excellent ventilation or ride on shaded trails.
- Listen to your horse’s breathing. If your horse starts breathing heavily, take a break, get in the shade, and cool your horse.
- When you’re riding in the ring keep a bucket of fresh cool water easily available. If your horse will drink water with electrolytes, consider adding electrolytes to the water.
- Keep a spray bottle of 50% rubbing alcohol and 50% water nearby. Spritz your horse regularly to help them cool. The alcohol evaporates quickly, facilitating sweat evaporation.
- If your horse has a longer coat, keep the coat clipped. While a coat does provide protection from sunburn, a long, thick coat traps heat, making it difficult for your horse to cool naturally.
- Be aware of sunburn. If you have a white horse or a horse with light-colored patches, pay attention to the sun. The best way to avoid sunburn is to keep your horse out of the sun, alternatively you can use a fly scrim or apply veterinarian-approved sunblock to risky areas.
- Slow down and take regular breaks. Remember that the heat at 2:00 p.m. in July is very different from 2:00 p.m. in March. Do less work in the hot hours and remember to regularly cool your horse down.
- Turn your horse out in the cooler parts of the day.
- Pay attention to the quality of the pasture. Heat and humidity can damage the pasture, reducing the nutrients your horse is getting. Consider using a horse supplement to fill in the gaps in your horse’s nutrition.
The Signs of Heat Stroke in Horses
Please memorize these signs of heat stroke in horses or print out this blog and post it in your riding stable or arena where everyone can easily read it.
Talk to your riding friends about heat stroke in horses and make sure they know the signs of horse heat stroke:
- A temperature higher than 104 degrees is sign of heat stroke. Take your horse’s temperature before and after riding. If your horse has an elevated temperature, you must immediately start aggressive cooling tactics.
- A high pulse rate is also a sign of heat stroke. Anything over 80 is a sign of distress. Read our blog on how to check your horse’s pulse and respiration rate.
- Check your horse’s gums. A dehydrated horse has slippery or sticky gums. Pay attention to the color of your horse’s gums – red or muddy colored gums indicate problems with the circulatory system and pale or blue gums are also a sign of problems.
- Excessive sweating or no sweating are key signs of dehydration and heat stroke.
If you notice any of the signs of heat stroke, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Move your horse to cool, shaded area, spray your horse with ice water and then scrape this water away, and give your horse fresh cool water to drink – if possible, with electrolytes. Follow all advice provided by your veterinarian.
Remember, if it feels hot to you – then it’s too hot for your horse. Don’t take risks with your horse’s health for the sake of a ride.