I don’t know if y’all noticed, but summer has arrived. Heat and humidity are as uncomfortable and potentially dangerous for our horses as they are for us, so let’s talk about how to keep them cool and as safe as possible.
First, if possible, ride early before the heat takes over the day completely. It’s hard for me to express how much I hate getting up early. In my last career, I spent years climbing out of bed at 4:30am to get to work when I was assigned to A Watch. I resented it every single morning. But for the care and safety of my older horse, I will revisit a modified version of that necessity this summer.
Older horses need special care!
Older horses like Chance have a couple of strikes against them in this weather. He happens to have Cushings disease which is beginning to mess with his coat. It seems longer this year than last and I am considering whether I need to give him a summer body clip for the first time ever.
Additionally, a study conducted at Rutger’s University showed that older horses don’t have as much plasma in their blood and thus have a smaller amount of fluid in reserve for sweating. Because sweating is such an important tool to control body heat, older horses tend to overheat more quickly when exercising in hot humid conditions.
Researchers in the study exercised young and older horses at the same intensity, causing similar amounts of body heat from the exertion. They found that older horses reached a specified level of heating twice as fast as younger horses although both sets of horses cooled at the same rate post exercise. This is something to think about carefully when you ride an older horse. Give them plenty of cooling walk breaks no matter their age, but remember to take twice as many breaks with your older horse in the heat.
Pay attention to what your horse is telling you!
Also be aware of signs of distress in the heat. A horse who seems cranky or unwilling during exercise in heat may be trying to tell you they are struggling rather than being disobedient. Take the safe route and offer them a break, especially if they are older. The Rutger’s study found those age related differences in heat management in horses in their late teens through their twenties.
Talk to the experts!
I frequently check in with trusted research sources like Kentucky Equine Research and The American Association of Equine Practitioners to find the latest information for taking care of my horses. Here are some tips for hot/humid weather related care I’ve gleaned from them:
- Hydration, hydration, hydration and maybe get them to drink more by any means necessary. And in addition to drinking more maybe add electrolytes. Aqua-Aide is one way folks like around our barn, but other options include Summer Games, an electrolyte supplement created when the Summer Olympics were held in Atlanta, Georgia. Both are on their way to the shop from my distributers. I sometimes just add a little molasses to a bucket of water to make sure I get that fluid on board after a ride. Holly won’t drink water with flavored electrolytes, but she’ll guzzle molasses water.
- Horses with pink muzzles need sunscreen. Or a nose on their fly mask. Or both because their friends think it’s funny to help them remove that mask. Watch for small scabs to appear, meaning that nose is starting to take damage from sunburn. I use diaper rash cream and usually keep some in the shop if you need it in a hurry. Diaper rash creams are inexpensive, contain the best sunscreen (40% Zinc) and flies don’t like it at all as a bonus. You can also use Equiderma Paste. It’s also excellent for wound protection and care.
- Y’all please offer your horses free choice salt in their pasture and stall if they come inside. I can’t emphasize this enough. I usually keep the pink salt on a rope tied to the stall bars for mine with a big block out in the paddock.
- If your horse will tolerate it and you have the ability, keep your horse in a stall during the day when it’s hot, with a nice box fan safely affixed to the stall bars. Chance loves his fan and spends most of the hottest part of the day with his face in it happily letting his forelock waft in the breeze.
- And as our fearless leader @ridingclubaustin shared on our local group post this morning, if you can get to the barn and give your horse a cooling bath during the heat of the day, they will appreciate it. Shower them with cool water and scrape them to let the evaporating cool begin quickly. If your horse gets overheated, get that water on them quickly, scrape it and hose them again, repeating until their body temp comes down.
This is a short list of ways to protect your horse in the heat. If you have more ideas that can help our community care for their horses in this weather, please share with us. We are all here to learn. The equestrian life is a journey and we all can appreciate friendly assistance along the way.
Connection is everything.