Summer is a great time for riding, but heat & humidity can quickly become an issue for your horse if you’re not careful. Here are some common-sense and practical tips for helping your horse survive the heat.
1. Provide fresh water
Your horse should always have access to cool and fresh water, especially when the temperatures outside are scorching. Not only is cool water more refreshing for your horse, but it can also help lower your horse’s body temperature. Warm, stagnant, and dirty water is not that appealing to your horse and can quickly become a breeding ground for insects (think mosquitos in particular), mold and algae. If the water container looks dirty, use a stiff-bristled brush and scouring pad to clean it, then replace the water.
2. Shaded areas
Providing adequate shade is critical to preventing heatstroke and heat-related issues. Whether it’s provided by large trees or covered turnouts, it’s important to offer a shield and protection from the hot rays of the sun. You can also bring your horse inside if needed.
4. Keep the air circulating
Large fans are a great way to keep air circulating in barns and stalls. Not only do fans provide some heat-relief, but they can also be helpful in keeping flies and other insects away. Always ensure that any electrical cords are kept safely out of the reach of your horse.
5. Misting systems
If you’re fortunate enough to have a misting system, use it. Misting can help reduce body temperature because as the moisture is absorbed from your horse’s skin, it will reduce some of the body heat. Studies show frequent misting is more effective than hosing your horse one time, with cool water. If you don’t have a misting system, remember if you’re hosing your horse with cool water, start the water slowly beginning at the feet and gradually work your way up and over the rest of your horse’s body. Too much cold water all at once can be too much of a shock for the horse’s body.
6. Schedule exercise during cooler periods of the day
Ease up on those workouts with your horse on very hot days. Excessive heat can cause serious illness and can be life-threatening for your horse, so consider a lighter workout and avoid workouts during the heat of the day. Getting in a light, early morning or late evening workout will still be beneficial and will alleviate the threat of heatstroke or illness.
7. Alternate turnout times
If you typically turn your horse out during the day, consider turning them out early in the morning or late in the evening (or even overnight) to avoid the hot rays of the mid-day sun. Keep an eye on your pasture as the hot sun can cause scorch your pastures and grass which might make it necessary for you to supplement with hay.
8. Encourage your horse to drink
It’s especially important that your horse continue drinking and sometimes he/she may need a little encouragement to do that. Consider adding a salt block, misting the hay with salt water, or utilizing electrolytes. If using electrolytes, always make sure you have another source of water available as not all horses like the taste of electrolyte-laced water.
9. Avoid sunburn
Using fly scrims/sheets, fly masks and sunscreen can offer additional protection from heat from the sun.
10. Consider body-clipping your horse
It’s true that your horse’s coat can offer protection from the burning rays of the sun; however, long or heavy coats (which can be common for horses that have metabolic issues) can retain heat longer, making it more difficult for your horse to cool down.
And finally, know the signs of heatstroke:
- An elevated heart rate that doesn’t return to normal in a reasonable period of time
- Lethargy and/or depression
- Excessive sweating or not sweating at all
- Temperature over 103
- Signs of dehydration, including dry mucous membrane, poor skin turgor, or capillary refill.
If you’re concerned that your horse is suffering from heatstroke, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Originally published on June 29, 2018. Updated July 26, 2020.