written by: Laura Strassman
Summer- and the heat is on.
How do you take care of your horse when things get hot?
Horses need most of the same things you do when it gets hot. Shade, ventilation, water, and rest.
Shade: Horses need access to shade, if they are turned out all day, there should either be substantial trees for shade, a man-made structure/run-in shed, or access to a stall.
Ventilation: Horses that are indoors should have plenty of ventilation and would benefit from a fan – there are several varieties of ruggedized fans that can be mounted in stalls or industrial fans that can ventilate an entire barn.
Water is of great importance; horses should have access to clean water at all times. It is important to check the water buckets and clean them regularly as they can harbor toxic algae and bacteria. Automatic watering systems such as a nelson system should be checked regularly- they can break, and horses can knock them out of commission.
Electrolytes – horses should also have access to a salt block, and you can offer electrolytes but always make sure plenty of plain water is available.
Just as humans do, horses cool themselves by sweating. The sweat evaporates from the skin surface and causes a cooling effect. Humid conditions make it much harder to cool down as less sweat evaporates during times of high humidity.
While horses can acclimate to hot and humid weather conditions take extra care with sudden/extreme temperature swings.
This chart of the “horse heat index” is a really good guide.
To use the index, all you need to do is add the current temperature (in Fahrenheit) and the relative humidity (in % RH) together. The total number determines the conditions. For example, if it is 77 degrees out and the relative humidity is 65 %, add them together for a total of 142. When you have your total, see the table below for recommendations.
Exercising in the Heat.
You can exercise your horse safely in the heat – it just requires that you pay attention and take the heat into account.
- Try to work early or late when it is cooler.
- Do less intense work, for shorter amounts of time.
- Pay attention to the relative heat index, from the chart above.
You may need to take longer breaks and be aware of your horse’s breathing and recovery. Make sure to cool your horse out, hose them down if you can, and you will both feel better!
Signs of overheating – can happen regardless of exercise- check horses during periods of extreme heat.
- A persistent high respiratory rate that does not come down with rest over 10-30 minutes (normal is 20-40 breaths per min). ⎯
- Change in mental activity and decreased energy level. ⎯ Dry mucous membranes in the mouth (they should feel “slimy”) and prolonged capillary refill time. To test, push on your horse’s gums. They should be pink to start, then they will blanch to white after pressure and return to pink in approximately one to two seconds. Check this at the start of your day and frequently throughout the day. If it is prolonged, contact your veterinarian. ⎯
- Gut sounds — Listen at the start of your day (if you don’t have a stethoscope put your ear on your horse’s flank, behind the ribs). You should hear gurgling sounds on both sides of the belly within seconds. Gurgling sounds are normal and good. Quiet gut sounds are a warning that your horse may be heading for dehydration or exhaustion.
If your horse has these symptoms get them into the shade, hose them down and contact your veterinarian. Heat can kill.