Horse Heat Stress Management
Helping Your Horse Beat the Heat
The weather is warming up and you’re probably excited to get out and ride, but you need to make sure your horse is ready to go too. Your horse’s needs change with the weather just as yours do, and there’s a lot you can do to keep them cool and comfortable all summer long.
Higher temperatures mean a higher risk that your horse will experience heat related stress such as dehydration or heat stroke. To avoid this, it’s important to keep your horse’s basic needs in mind.
It’s important to make sure your horse always has access to plenty of clean, fresh water to help them stay hydrated and regulate their body temperature. A horse working in temperatures above 70 degrees fahrenheit can drink twice as much as an average horse at rest. If your horse doesn’t usually drink much, a salt block can encourage them to drink more.
Your horse has plenty of shade when they’re in the barn, but they need shade when they’re out in the pasture as well. Good shade options for pastures include shade-bearing trees or run-in sheds with high enough roofs to provide air circulation. You should also put your water troughs in these shady areas so your horses can take advantage of both benefits at once.
If there isn’t any shade available in your pasture, you can turn out your horses in the morning or evening to let them avoid the hottest part of the day.
Just as you wouldn’t go straight from power walking to running a marathon, you shouldn’t expect your horse to be ready for a vigorous exercise routine right away, especially in hot weather. Make sure to ease your horse into their new routine as the temperature rises, especially if your horse is overweight, underweight, or just not used to regular exercise.
According to Dr. Marty Adams, Equine Nutritionist for Southern States, "Electrolytes are minerals in the horse's body fluids and tissues that are involved in muscle contraction, thirst regulation, nerve function and maintenance of blood pH."
Electrolytes are found in your hay, pasture, and regular horse feed, but horses in strenuous exercise programs need extra electrolytes from more than just food.
Horses, like humans, lose electrolytes through sweat. Losing too many can lead to fatigue, muscle cramps, and horse colic. You should look for electrolytes with sodium chloride and potassium chloride as the first two ingredients, and can give them to your horse through a dosing syringe or by adding them to their food or water.
Be Sure They’re Breaking a Sweat
While you might be uncomfortable if you’re soaked in sweat, lots of sweating is helpful and healthy for your horse. It helps them cool down, and if they aren’t sweating in hot weather, it could be a sign of a dangerous condition called anhidrosis.
Anhidrosis in horses is a complete or partial inability to sweat. Signs of anhidrosis include panting, hair loss around the face, a dry coat, and difficulty exercising. If you think your horse is suffering from anhidrosis, you should call your vet right away. The condition can’t be cured, but there’s plenty you can do to help keep your non-sweating horse cool.
Schedule Around the Sun
Just as you don’t want to spend hours outside in the heat of the day, neither does your horse. You should shorten your riding times and ride in the morning or evening when possible to give your horse a workout without putting them under too much stress. Once you’re done exercising your horse, cool them down properly with a long walk, a hose-down, brushing off the excess water, and letting them stand in front of a fan if you can.
You have to be careful about trailering your horse in the heat, as the insides of trailers can heat up quickly during the summer. Things to look for in a trailer include a lighter colored exterior, large windows, and roof vents. In terms of actually transporting your horse, move your horse in the coolest part of the day, use rubber mats or shavings on the trailer floor, and spray your horse down before you load them in.
Break Out the Barn Fans
Fans can help keep your barn cool and your horses comfortable, but it’s important to use the right kind. To avoid barn fires, only use agricultural fans like the Ventamatic 24" Direct Drive Yellow Tilt & Stand Fan, regularly clean dust off of fans, only use them when people are in the barn, and keep chords out of reach of horses. Also, don’t just turn them off when not in use, but unplug them as well - critters like raccoons like to chew on cords, too.
With these tips and your own good sense, summer can be a happy, healthy, and hopefully cool season for you and your horse.