With temperatures climbing and summer in full swing, it’s important to think about ways to help keep not only ourselves, but our equine friends comfortable. There are a few simple ways to help our equines beat the heat.
- Ensure plenty of fresh, clean water is available at all times. While this is obviously a necessity at all times of the year, it’s especially important during times when your horse is sweating. Check your horse’s water daily to make sure it is clean and topped up as well as that they are drinking as much as they should. (Bonus! Keeping the water tank and buckets clean and scrubbed frequently helps cut down any mosquito breeding that can happen in the offered water supply too!)
- Don’t forget the salt! Along with plenty of access to fresh, clean water, don’t forget to provide a salt block. Horses need to be able to replace the salts they lose with their sweat. If you keep free-choice salt blocks available, your horse should be able to consume what they need to keep up with their sweating. If your horse doesn't take an interest in a salt block, a loose salt/mineral product is a better choice.
- Make sure they have access to shade. There can be a large temperature difference between standing in the full sun and standing in the shade. The shade can be from a tree, or building, but make sure that there is an option for shade at all times throughout the day as the shade spots move with the sun throughout the day.
- Keep it moving. Air movement can help tremendously in cooling your horse, especially on days when there isn’t much breeze. If you have safe access to electricity in your barn or run-in shed, you can add a fan (with a closed motor) to keep air moving and give your horse the option of standing in the breeze. You can even add a timer to automatically turn the fan on and off to reduce electricity usage and offer a breeze only during of need. Added bonus is that this will help cut down insect activity too since bugs don’t like the breeze! Just be sure any fans used have closed motors so they don’t suck up dirt and create a fire hazard.
-Take a siesta (nap) during high heat times. Avoid working your horse during the peak heat of the day. If you aim for riding and working your horse in the morning before the heat rises or in the late evening after the heat of the day has passed, you’ll have less trouble keeping them at a comfortable temperature. This is especially important if the temperature has risen suddenly and the horse is not used to it. No matter the time of day, don’t forget to adequately cool your horse down from a hard workout.
- Cool water rinse. Rinsing your horse with cool water can be a great way to help cool them down. There are a few things to keep in mind when doing this.
o Don’t simply rinse your horse and then put them where there is no breeze. This takes away the horse’s ability to cool themselves by sweating because the water won’t evaporate and remove heat unless there is air moving. After rinsing, remove excess water from the horse with a sweat scraper or your hands, and then take them outside where there is a breeze or place them in front of a fan (see above for safety on fans).
o No breeze and no fan? You can continue to run cool water over your horse so the cool water keeps cooling them, but add a little water pressure by using a spray nozzle or your thumb to create a little sprayer. If you just let the hose gently run water over your horse, their hair will hold a microlayer of water close to their skin. This thin microlayer of water then becomes superheated to the horse’s high body temperature and the cool water runs over top of it without actually cooling the horse. By creating a small amount of water pressure with a nozzle or your thumb, you prevent this superheated microlayer of water from forming and the cool water can continue to remove heat from your horse as intended. There is no need to blast the horse with high pressure, just enough to gently move their hair is all you need. Don’t forget to remove excess water from the horse with a scraper or your hands when done. Hopefully by the time you’re finished, a breeze will have picked up to help dry the rest of the water and cool your horse further.
Pay attention to your horse's pre-existing medical problems. There are a LOT of horses with Recurrent Airway Obstruction ("heaves") in our area, and they often have flare-ups when it gets extra hot. Make sure to work with your veterinarian to keep your horse's breathing under control so they don't have to suffer from not being able to breathe in addition to the heat. Keep insect bite hypersensitivity issues under control too as these add to heat stress.
Know the signs of heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Even with the best of care, sometimes the heat just becomes too much. This is especially true for horses that are worked hard in the high heat, foals that can’t regulate their temperature well on their own yet, or horses with other medical conditions. Knowing what to watch for is key. Signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke are:
o Excessive sweating, or sweating more than is appropriate o Horse is not sweating when they should be. o Raised heart rate, breathing rate, or rectal temperature
o Heavy breathing o Lethargic o Drooling/salivating o Very red eyes or gums o Stumbling o Collapse
If you think your horse might be experiencing heat exhaustion or stroke, contact your veterinarian immediately. They will likely have you start cooling measures (similar to what is listed above) until they can arrive, but your horse will likely need further veterinary care to recover safely.