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Horse Heat Stress Management: Tips For Keeping Your Horse Cool In Summer

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Horse Heat Stress Management: Tips For Keeping Your Horse Cool In Summer

How to Help Your Horse Beat the Heat this Summer

Understanding Your Horse’s Basic Needs 

Not only do the summer months bring warmer temperatures and longer days, but they also bring more opportunities to ride and compete with your horse. As temperatures rise, so do the risks of your horse experiencing heat-related stress, such as dehydration and heat stroke. To make the most of your summer riding opportunities, keep an eye on your horse and modify your training and horse care program. 

Water 

The average 1000-pound horse at rest drinks 8 to 10 gallons of water a day. When temperatures rise above 70° F, horses in work can drink twice as much. Make sure they have access to clean, fresh and cool water at all times, whether your horse is turned out or in his stall. By drinking cool water, they will be able to 2 horses licking salt in a fieldlower their body temperature on their own. If your horse isn’t a big drinker, you can encourage water consumption by providing free choice salt blocks in your pastures and stalls. 

Shade 

Providing shade to your horse throughout the day is almost as important as making sure your horse has access to water. Whether you board in a barn or in a field, shade is needed. Obviously, a horse in a stall is provided shade from being indoors, however, they will need shade when they are turned out. Make sure your pastures offer several shade options. 

If there aren’t shade-bearing trees in your field, offer an escape from the sun with a run-in shed. With run-ins, the higher the roof the more air circulation and cooler the shed will be. As shade and water go together in importance, place your water troughs in shady areas. 

Do you have a field that doesn’t have much shade? Alter your turnout schedule. Either turn out your horses at night, or if you have a horse that doesn’t require a lot of turnout put him in the field early in the morning. Both of these options will let your horse beat the heat and powerful rays of the sun. 

Conditioning 

Before the temps rise too much, learn how to assess the body condition of your horse. If your horse has been in regular work since the winter weather subsided, he will be more likely to be able to handle the rising temperatures. Horses that are out of shape, overweight, and even thin under-muscled horses have a hard time dealing with the extra stress associated with heat. 

If your horse hasn’t been in a regular exercise program, slowly build up their fitness and stamina as the heat and humidity rises. This slow and steady approach will help ensure your horse stays healthy and not overstressed this summer. 

The Importance Of Equine Electrolytes 

You know summer is here when your local feed store and tack shops start expanding their section devoted to electrolytes. 

So what are electrolytes and how do they help your horse in the summer?

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.” 

Sweaty Horse drinking from a bucket

Electrolytes can be found in your hay, pasture and horse feed. However, horses in work, (especially those who travel to compete) need additional electrolytes to maintain good health and perform at their highest level. 

Like humans, horses use sweating as a way to cool off during periods of warm weather and while exercising. When a horse sweats, not only is water lost, but important electrolytes like sodium, chloride and potassium are lost. If too many electrolytes are lost serious problems like fatigue, muscle cramps, and colic can occur. 

Dr. Adams says, “When looking for an electrolyte for your horse, sodium chloride should be listed first on the ingredient list, followed by potassium chloride as the second ingredient.” There are two types of electrolytes, salt-based and sugar based. While sugar-based electrolytes are highly palatable, you won’t meet your horse’s daily salt requirements without feeding a lot of the sugar-based electrolytes.  

Electrolytes can be given to your horse in a variety of ways. You can add water and administer via a dosing syringe, add the electrolytes to your horse’s feed, or add the electrolytes to their water. Each way works equally as well, just figure out what your horse prefers to ensure they are consuming the added electrolytes. 

Horse Sweat Is A Good Thing 

Often times you hear the phrase “no sweat” when people are referring to something that isn’t a problem. When it comes to horses, no sweat is a big problem. During a hot, muggy day it isn’t uncommon to see horses drenching in sweat when doing nothing more strenuous than simply grazing in the field. Although they may look uncomfortable, these sweaty horses are far moreSweaty horse chestcomfortable than their non-sweating counterparts, as sweating helps regulate body temperature. 

Anhidrosis in horses is the partial or total inability to sweat—and is a problem that can be potentially life-threatening. When a horse is unable to sweat, he is unable to keep his internal organs and brain from overheating. Unfortunately, no one knows what causes this condition and it can affect any breed, though it is most commonly seen in the Gulf Coast states including Florida and Louisiana. 

Signs Of Equine Anhidrosis 

  • panting 
  • poor tolerance to exercise 
  • dry hair coat 
  • hair loss (especially around the face and a reduction of sweat) 

Immediately contact your equine veterinarian if you think your horse may be experiencing anhidrosis. While there is no cure, you can manage a non sweater in a variety of ways. You can relocate your horse during the summer months, limit physical activity, or install barn fans and misters. 

Adjust Your Horse Care Schedule 

When we hit the beach this summer, we are often reminded to avoid the hottest part of the day, typically 11 am to 3 pm, and apply ample sunscreen. This same rule should apply when trying to determine when to exercise your horse during the summer to try and avoid the heat of the day. When possible try to ride either in the morning or late evening, depending on what works best for your schedule. 

Barrell racing horse

In addition to changing the hours at which you ride, change the duration of your ride. A short workout in hot, humid conditions is the same as a longer workout in more pleasant weather, in terms of stress placed on the horse. Take plenty of rest breaks, to help your horse cool down during your exercise session. 

After you finish exercising your horse, don’t just drop him off in his stall like a hot potato. Take your time and properly cool him off. Take him for an extended walk, hose him off and brush the water off scraping the water off to speed up the cooling process or put him in front of a fan. 

Trailering Your Horse In The Heat 

When competing this summer, not only do you need to think about how you will perform your best when you arrive at the show, you need to come up with a plan for how you will safely get your horse to the competition. The heat and humidity of the summer can create oven-like conditions in your trailer. So what can you do? 

  • If you don’t currently own a trailer, consider buying a “cool” trailer to ship your horse(s) in. Studies show that dark exterior colored trailers can be 20-30° hotter inside than trailers that are white or silver in color. 
  • Look for trailers that have large windows for maximum airflow and ceiling roof vents to draw air into the trailer. If possible, take a test ride in the trailer yourself to see what the airflow and temperature conditions are like when temperatures rise. 
  • Even when the weather is cool and humidity is low, traveling is work for a horse. Riding in a trailer can fatigue a horse as they constantly have to work to balance themselves in the moving trailer. Add in warm temperatures and you can easily have a horse that arrives to its destination dehydrated and fatigued. 
  • To minimize fatigue, alter your travel schedule and transport your horse either in the evening or early in the morning, whatever is the coolest part of the day. Before putting your horse on the trailer make sure you have opened all the windows and air vents to get cool air circulating prior to loading. If you have fans on you trailer, turn them on as well. 
  • To minimize the impact of heat coming up from the road, place rubber mats on your trailer floor or bed the trailer down with shavings. Not only does heat come from the sun beating down on the trailer, but it also comes up from the black asphalt the trailer is riding on. 
  • Hose your horse off prior to loading, in an attempt to keep them cool.  

By modifying your trailering routine you will be able to ensure your horse travels as comfortable as possible regardless of the weather. 

Barn Fan Safety 

Each summer horse owners everywhere put fans up in their barns to help cool their horses off as the temperatures rise. However, not all fans are appropriate for barn use. Most horse owners run out to their nearest hardware or discount store to stock up on box fans for their barn. 

Before you follow suit, make sure you are buying a fan that is designed for agricultural use and not a box fan designed to be used indoors in a residential situation. Fans designed for agricultural use have motors sealed up to prevent dust and dirt from interfering with the motor and starting a fire. In addition to having unsealed motors, inexpensive box fans also have light weight cords which can eventually expose their wiring over time. 

Barn fires are caused every year from faulty fans and improper installation of fans. To prevent the potential for fires, in addition to only using agricultural fans in the barn, only run fans when there are people in the barn. Turn fans off at night, most of the time barns are reasonably comfortable at night if you can open up windows and doors in the barn. Vacuum or blow off dust that accumulates around the fans that are placed on or in your stalls. 

When installing fans, make sure you keep the cords out of the horses’ reach. One bite to a cord can cause a short circuit and potential fire. Remember horses aren’t the only ones to potentially bite the cords, raccoons and mice can also interfere with your cords. Always unplug the fans when not in use! 

Another option when it comes to cooling down your barn is to get two large agricultural use-approved floor fans and put them at either end of your barn aisle. These large high-power fans do a great job of circulating air throughout the barn during the day. 

Rinsing a horse off

Enjoy Your Summer 

Summer doesn’t have to bring your equestrian activities to a halt. By changing both you and your horse’s riding routine you can both enjoy your summer while staying healthy and competitive. When in doubt about whether to ride or go to the pool when temperatures are scorching, play it safe and go for a dip. 

 Reprinted courtesy of Kentucky Equine Research. Kentucky Equine Research is an international equine nutrition, research, and consultation company serving horse owners and the feed industry. Our goals are to advance the industry's knowledge of equine nutrition and exercise physiology, apply that knowledge to produce healthier, more athletic horses, and support the nutritional care of all horses throughout their lives. Learn more at https://ker.com 
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