Summer is undoubtedly one of the best times of year for equestrians. No school, long sunny days, and of course… Horse shows!! But with all the fun, brings some seriously hot weather! High temperatures take their toll and can lead to dehydration, lethargy, colic, and even heat stroke! Read below for some tips and tricks on taking care of your horse on a hot day!
One of the most important horse care tips we can offer for the summer is to be diligent about keeping your horse hydrated! Many of the ailments listed above stem from dehydration. To assure your horse stays hydrated, make sure to provide clean, fresh water for them at all times. Salt, minerals and/or electrolytes can also be added to your horse’s diet to ensure proper hydration.
There are a few different types of electrolytes that you can offer your horse. Free choice salt/mineral blocks are probably the top choice, but horses aren't always their best advocates. If you see your horse is sweating but not active at the salt block, or water consumption is below normal you may need to offer some electrolytes
My grey horse is pretty fickle about powder electrolytes in his food. He often picks it out. It's no wonder, I'm sure you're tempted to taste them, I'll save you the trouble. Commercial electrolytes may smell like your favorite powdered drink mix, don't be fooled. They taste like a mouth full of salt water at the ocean. I get why he leaves them behind. That said, he's also made it really clear, that when in heavy work at the height of a southern summer, he needs help. Thankfully electrolytes are also available in paste form, which he is happy to have.
It’s a good idea to get familiarized with your horse’s normal habits and water intake so you can easily recognize when they may be getting dehydrated. An easy method to check your horses hydration level is to do a Skin Turgor test. Gently pinch a section of skin in the middle of your horses neck and let go. On a well hydrated horse the skin should quickly snap back to the muscle, if the skin stands tented away from the horses neck, or is slow to smooth back into the neck, your horse may be dehydrated.
Another great way to manage day time heat and humidity is switching your horse to night time turn out. Your horse can stay comfy with a fan in their stall during the day and then play outside during the night when it's cooler and less buggy! Some horses are not fans of being kept in a stall, and that's okay too. If your horse is happier living outside, the best way to offset the heat is to make sure shelter, shade and water are always available.
Here in the South Eastern United States, it's not just the heat,(all together now, my souther neighbors) It's the humidity. Humidity can play a huge factor in your horses workload and fitness level. The higher the humidity level, the harder your horses body will have to work to cool down. Our friends at the AAEP ( American Association Of Equine Practitioners) have done some research, and they strongly recommend calculating the heat index on those sultry summer days. Here's an easy Infographic on how to calculate the heat index before you ride from the AAEP.
If the heat Index is greater than 150, keep an eye on your work load and your horse during your schooling session. If your heat index is 180 or greater, the AAEP suggests not riding until the heat index goes down as you and your horse could be at risk for heat stroke. When the heat index is going to be high, it's probably best to plan your rides for early mornings or in the evenings. If you're only option is to ride while the heat index is very high, keep it light and simple. Maybe a low key trail ride, tack walk or find a natural water source to splash around in with your horse.
Growing up, the barn where I kept my horse was near a large deep creek that fed into the Potomac river. One of the neighbors boarded her horse at the barn and would let us use her boat ramp to ride the horses into the creek, if you went out far enough the horses had enough room to swim as you came back to the ramp. Bareback rides to her private boat launch were afternoons well spent by all!
After a summer time schooling session, it’s important to give your horse a proper cool down. This entails a nice long walk to bring down their respiration and heart rate. Your horses' pulse, temperature and respiration should all be within normal limits within 10 minutes of ending your work out. If your horse is still breathing heavily, consider working in some fitness routines like trot sets into your daily rides to increase his fitness level.
Once your horses vitals are within normal limits you can follow up that walk with a nice refreshing shower! The trick to a good hose down on a super hot day is to spray and then immediately scrape off the excess water! If you let the water sit it acts as an insulator and prevents continued cooling. l just continue to heat your horse as opposed to cool them. Continue hosing and scraping until your horse is completely cool to the touch.
It's also important to keep an eye out if your horse is starting to look uncomfortable in the heat, which can lead to heat stress and then even heat stroke. Here's a great infographic from our friends at horsedvm.com!
Prevention is key in the warmer months, but always consult your vet if you suspect heat stress/stroke, dehydration, or colic. Now get out there and enjoy the beautiful weather!