Help Your Horse Avoid the Dangers of Hot Weather: 10 Summer Equine Care Tips
The annual wave of heat and humidity has hit North Carolina, and as temperatures increase, it is important to keep your horse from getting overheated! Here are some tips from the team at Carolina Equine Hospital in Browns Summit, NC, for keeping your horse comfortable and healthy in the summer months. We’ve also included signs of heat stroke in horses.
Schedule cooler turnout times. If your horse has a stall, but gets turned out for part of the day, switch it up and let him out during the cooler hours. Letting your horse stay out overnight is ideal, but if that isn’t possible, let your horse have turnout time as early in the morning as possible.
Provide shade. If your horse lives outdoors or if he must be outside during the day, provide your horse a place he can use to escape from the sun. A run-in shed is best. Trees provide good shade when the sun is in the right spot, but when the sun moves those trees will no longer be a good source of shade. Make sure to have multiple shade sources so your horse is protected no matter where the sun is in the sky.
Move the air. Fans are a great way to help keep the air circulating in the barn and keep everyone feeling nice and cool. When outfitting your horse’s stall with a fan, make sure to keep all cords and plugs out of sight and out of reach of your horse.
Provide fresh, cool water and an electrolyte source. Make sure your horse has plenty of fresh, cool water available at all times. A bucket of water out in the pasture will get warm from the sun and the water will no longer be appealing. Left long enough, the water will also become stagnant and unhealthy. If you are providing clean, cool water and your horse doesn’t seem to be drinking, then encourage it by providing a salt block. Using a spray bottle to mist hay with salt water is also a good idea. If your horse is sweating a lot, water laced with electrolytes can help keep its body in balance. Whenever you offer electrolytes, however, be sure to offer a second source of fresh water, as well. Not all horses will drink electrolyte-laced water, so providing a source of water without them will ensure your horse keeps drinking. Also, too many electrolytes can be harmful.
Slow it down. If you ride or work your horse in the heat, lighten up the workload or spread it out over a couple of shorter sessions. This is especially important when the humidity is high, which causes the poor quality of the air your horse is breathing. Make sure to cool your horse down slowly while offering frequent sips of fresh, cool water. Take the tack off as soon as you’re done and sponge the horse off again with cool water to help him cool off.
Know when it’s too hot to ride. Riding your horse when it gets too hot can be very dangerous. Here is a formula to help you determine if it is safe to ride your horse in the day’s heat. FORMULA: Air Temperature + Relative Humidity – Wind Speed= your answer.
Less than 130: Green Light to Ride! Horses can function to cool themselves off assuming they have adequate hydration
130-170: Caution. A horse’s cooling mechanisms can only partially function as intended. Some cooling management procedures will need to be performed.
170 and above: STOP! A horse’s cooling systems cannot and will not function adequately. All cooling procedures will need to be utilized to keep the horse out of serious trouble.
Stick to a schedule. While taking into account any changes made to help keep your horse cool, try to stay as close as possible to his normal schedule. Too much change at one time can cause stress and possibly colic.
Avoid sunburn. Horses, especially white horses, can suffer from sunburn. Even those with white socks and blazes, pink noses, or hairless patches from scarring can be a sunburn magnet! Using a fly sheet or mask can help. Applying sunblock to small, particularly vulnerable areas can be effective as well. Staying out of the sun’s harmful rays will of course, be the best prevention for sunburn.
Clip, clip, clip! Clipping is important, especially for those with pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID, or Cushing’s disease). While some coat can provide protection from the sun and insulation, a long, thick coat tends to hold heat and makes it difficult for the horse to cool down. *Be careful not to clip the hair too close, however, as it provides some protection from damaging rays.
Signs of heat stroke. A heat stroke can happen anytime your horse is exposed to excessive heat that his body can’t handle. Not only can exercise bring on a heat stroke, but standing in a hot stall or trailer can also result in heat stroke.
You should know your horse’s normal temperature, heart, and respiratory rates. To find the heart rate of a horse, simply find a pulse and count the beats for 15 seconds, then multiply that number by four, which will give the beats per minute. Count the breaths per minute in a similar way.
Signs of heat stroke can include:
An elevated heart rate that does not return to normal in a reasonable period of time
Excessive sweating or lack of sweating
A temperature that stays above 103°F;
Depression and/or lethargy
Signs of dehydration, including dry mucous membranes, poor capillary refill, and poor skin turgor.
Emergency Veterinary Care for Horses
If you suspect your horse may be suffering from a heat stroke, get immediate veterinary care. The team at Carolina Equine Hospital offers 24-hour emergency veterinary care for horses throughout Guilford County and the surrounding area. Call our office number at 336-349-4080 to be directed to our on-call veterinarian.