Summer is here and boy is it hot!
You’d think that horses could withstand all types of weather, cold and hot. But certain breeds are more comfortable in cold weather and others in hot weather. But even so, as it can get too hot for us, it can also get too hot for our horses as well.
It can be even worse when you have a cold-weather horse in a hot weather location. When this happens, you as the caretaker should make special considerations for your horse. They are depending on you to help them stay healthy.
An example of this is my little Friesian, a cold climate horse, now in temperatures of 100 degrees Celsius with 95% humidity. He’s not too happy about these really hot, humid days.
Let me give you a little of my research on this subject:
Normally a horse’s body temperature is between 98.5 to 101 degrees Fahrenheit. And like humans, a horse’s body temperature rises as he exerts himself.
You want to avoid your horse’s temperature getting too high because this can cause damage to his brain and organs. So, he must be able to get rid of that heat. Horses do have a natural way to cool off but can also be assisted by us.
Naturally, some of your horse’s heat is transferred through the air, exiting his lungs. You can see this when they are breathing heavily. More heat is carried off through the skin surface by the bloodstream.
University of Guelph researchers determined that horses succumb to heat stress three to ten times faster during workouts than humans. Horses are large and possess higher percentages of active muscle than humans do and during workouts, they produce more heat loss.
Also, less sweat evaporates from your horse during workouts than when we work out simply because a horse produces much more sweat than can be evaporated. In order to help your horse avoid heat stress, you should do your workouts in the cooler times of the day – very early morning or later in the evening.
You can also shorten your workouts. Instead of doing a 45-minute session, maybe go for 20 or 25 minutes and monitor your horse’s breathing. If you feel your horse’s sides heaving in and out, or you see his nostrils flare excessively, it’s time to let him walk, not stand still, but walk quietly until his breathing is normal. Then work on a cool down for your horse.
Here are a few things that I’ve tried which have helped:
Changing the In/Out Schedule. The owner of the barn facility Merlin is at has changed all the horse’s pasture schedules. So instead of being out all day and in the barn at night, they are all now in the barn during the hot summer days and out in the pasture during the cooler evening.
I know my horse loves it. I visit during the day and he is curled up in his shavings very comfortable. It also helps keep the flies away too.
Cooling off the Area. The barn where I have my little Merlin has large fans that cool the facility and the stalls have their own box fans for further cooling to keep the airflow moving. Each stall also has its own window for ventilation when and if needed.
I used misting fans when I was in California. I hung them around the outside of my barn on the overhang. I swear it lowered the temperature by 5-10 degrees on the inside of the overhang. They were very effective.
Note: Even a slow walk creates a bit of a breeze that would help cool your horse. Walking in a shaded area would be even better.
Clean, fresh, cool water to drink. When your horse is in the pasture, you should always have fresh cool water for them to drink. If you can’t put the water trough in a shaded area to keep it cooler, then adding fresh cold water in the morning and in the evening will help keep it cool during the day.
I also add a second water bucket in my horse’s barn stall to allow the availability of extra water. Being dehydrated can cause organ damage.
Note: Many times your horse will not drink enough water and/or have insufficient electrolytes. However, given the opportunity, most horses will correct this problem on their own if you provide them with a salt block with electrolytes.
They’ll eat what they need from the salt block to replenish what they’ve lost. Plus if you hang one water bucket with electrolytes mixed in and another with just fresh water, they will pick from the bucket they feel they need to drink from.
Shelter from the sun. Along with fresh cool water, your horse needs shelter from the hot sun. This can be done with a run-in shed, a barn stall, or a large group of shade trees so they can feel the breeze. Being able to escape from the direct heat of the sun is really critical for your horse.
I hear that there are ultraviolet mesh fly sheets that can prevent sunburn and block light without making the horses any hotter. But I haven’t tried one.
Rinsing your horse off with cool water. This definitely helps cool your horse and you too if you’ve been out in the heat with your horse. I start with my horse’s feet and then rinse up the leg and to the jugular vein which is in the neck. By cooling off his jugular vein, you cool the blood coming back to the heart, which cools the body internally.
Then I hose off the rest of my horse’s body, sweat-scrape him, and then hose him off again. That way it pulls the heat out faster than just hosing and letting water sit on the skin, which heats up quickly, counteracting the desired result.
Note: I like to get creative and have some fun on hot days. Jazz and Apollo loved it when I would break out the baby pool and they could splash around in it. Jazz loved to stick his whole head in and blow bubbles.
Hopefully, these tidbits will help you with ideas to keep your horse cool during the hot summer days. Keeping any horse healthy and safe in hot weather can be a challenge, but one you can meet with knowledge, planning, and careful observation.
Note: If you really need to cool your horse off quickly, an alcohol bath followed by drying in front of a fan can accelerate heat dissipation. However, alcohol dries the skin so do this only when you really need it.
Until next week, Happy Horses!