Keeping Your Horse Healthy in the Heat


Yesterday when I was with Merlin he decided to have some fun in his water trough.  He jumped in with his front feet, splashed around, and jumped back out.  Then with all the water he had splashed out, he rolled and rolled in the mud.

Then he jumped back into his water trough and did the whole thing over and over again.  After about 5 minutes of this, he was fully covered in wet mud from the tips of his ears to his hooves.  And he was so happy with the results.

However, his water trough was now full of mud and I had to dump it out and refill it with fresh clean water. Luckily I have two water troughs in the pasture.  But it was so cute to watch him have so much fun in the water.

This reminded me of a few other heat-related tips that I wanted to pass along as a follow-up to last week’s blog.  So let’s get into how your horse reacts in extreme heat, things to look out for, and how to help him.

We talked about having clean, fresh, cool water to drink for your horse last week.  This not only helps your horse stay cool but also fights off dehydration.  According to studies, a horse weighing 1,000 lbs. requires a minimum of 10 to 12 gallons of water every day.

I check my horse’s water troughs and water buckets daily to make sure they are clean and fresh.  And that he hasn’t filled it with mud after playing in the water.

Here are a few ways to determine if your horse is dehydrated:

  • Pinch test: Pinch skin on your horse’s neck/shoulder, take note of how quickly it springs back. If dehydrated, the skin will stay elevated for a few seconds.
  • Eyes and Gums: Check for wrinkled eyelids along with dull/glazed-over eyes. Look for dark red gums and mucous membranes of the nose and mouth.
  • Behavior: Look for sluggish, lethargic, or depressed behavior. Also, check for shallow panting and/or body temperature exceeding 102 degrees.

What to do if you suspect your horse is dehydrated? 

Depending on the severity of your horse’s dehydration and other clinical signs, your horse may need treatment ranging from adding electrolytes to his food and water, to intravenous fluid and intense monitoring and treatment from a veterinary hospital.

Another way to help your horse stay healthy during hot weather is to add electrolytes to their food and/or water, especially if your horse has been sweating heavily.

However, if you add it to the water, make sure to have a second source of water that is clean and fresh that doesn’t have anything in it.  Sometimes horses will drink less water if it tastes different so you want another fresh bucket for them to choose from.

Also don’t overwork your horse when the temperatures are over 90 degrees or the humidity is high.  High humidity can affect how your horse is breathing.  Try riding or working in the early morning or late afternoon so the temps are cooler.

Provide shade. Having a place for your horse to stay out of the sun, in shaded areas, and in an area that has good airflow is important as we discussed last week too.  But remember that with proper airflow, it may be cooler outside than it is in a barn stall.

Even when you use a fan in your horse’s stall, it could be hotter inside than out. So, pay attention to your horse’s environment and the hot temperatures.

Hosing off your horse can also keep him healthy in hot temperatures.  Remember to use cool running water and rinse off your horse’s entire body until the water coming off your horse is no longer hot.  Don’t forget to use a scraper to get excess water off your horse to assist in the cooling process.

Hose your horse off every time you ride in the summer to clean off excess sweat and cool off his body. Being too hot can damage your horse’s brain and if dehydrated can cause kidney damage.

If your horse stands out in the hot sun, doesn’t drink enough water for whatever reason, and starts to sweat profusely you need to worry about heat stress and heat stroke.  Heat stress can easily lead to heat stroke.

This can happen when your horse is exposed to excessive heat that his body can’t handle.  Or it can happen when your horse is ridden or worked in extreme heat and/or humidity.  It can even happen when your horse is in a hot stall or trailer.  Be careful and think about your horse’s health.

Here are some signs that your horse may be going through heat stress or heat stroke…

  • Rectal temperatures above 103 F
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Profuse sweating
  • Droopy ears
  • Tiredness
  • Dehydration
  • Skin tent lasting several seconds after pinching the skin of the neck or shoulders
  • Reduced feed intake

Again, once you think your horse is showing signs of heat stroke, contact your vet to determine how to proceed.

But in the meantime…

It is important to move your horse to a shady area immediately and have a fan blowing on him.  Then, once he’s in a cooler area, use a sponge or a hose to put cool water on your horse’s neck and body, especially on the large veins in his neck.  You can also rinse off the thin-skinned parts of your horse’s groin to cool him off.

You can also put ice in a towel and place it on your horse’s forehead.  The brain contains the temperature control center for the body, and this will help cool your horse quickly.

Don’t forget to try to get your horse to drink small amounts of cool water as this will help hydrate him as well.  Adding electrolytes will help just as it did with dehydration.  But if he won’t drink, he may need IV fluids from a vet.

You can also use rubbing alcohol on the back and neck areas in order to help your horse cool down.

In short – keeping your horse healthy in hot temperatures is boiled down to:

  • Keeping your horse hydrated with fresh clean water.
  • Add electrolytes to one of your horse’s water buckets.
  • Keep your workouts to early morning or late afternoon, in cooler weather.
  • Provide your horse with a cool, shaded area to stay out of the sun.
  • Hose off your horse fully and scrape the excess water off.
  • And if you see signs of dehydration or heat stress/stroke, call your vet.

Hope you are having a fun and safe summer wherever you are located.  We are having fun here in Maryland even though it’s still hot here.

Until next week, have a great weekend and a Happy Horses!

Please Share

  • C Lombardi says:

    Yes, it is so important to make sure your horses stay healthy in the heat. My horses had natural spring-fed ponds and lots of trees to get under to stand in the shade.

    When riding I would rest at the creek so they could drink and play in the water. Sometimes I would ride down to the river which was always fun.

  • Really interesting read, Teddie. Thank you. And isn’t Merlin a laugh jumping in the water trough? I love it!

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