Summer is a great time to get outside, and for many, it’s a time of year when they have a bit more time to spend out with their horses. That’s great! But in many areas, summers are uncomfortably hot… okay, let’s be honest, they can be brutally hot, especially in the southern states. If it’s too hot for you to be comfortable outside, chances are very good that it’s too hot for your horses to comfortably be outside. Even if it’s not too hot for your horse, it can be too hot for them to run much, and you should pay close attention to your horse’s behavior for signs of anything wrong.
Fortunately, keeping your horse or horses cool in the summer is relatively easy. In fact, many methods are very similar to keeping yourself cool! Here we will look at:
- Warning signs of heat stroke or overheating
- Knowing your horse’s vital signs
- Cooling methods
- Cool times
- Cooling stations
- Quick Tips
How to Spot Heat Stroke or Overheating
Before we talk about ways to cool down your horse, it’s important that we look at the warning signs that your horse is dangerously hot. Just like heat stroke in humans, heat stroke in horses can be very serious, possibly life-threatening, and you should do everything you can to ensure that your horse never reaches this point. Some of the symptoms of this serious condition 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 persists above 103°F
- Depression and/or lethargy
- Signs of dehydration: dry mucous membranes, poor capillary refill, and poor skin turgor
So let’s look at these a bit more in-depth with typical horse vital signs:
- Heart rate- A normal horse heart rate is 24-48 bpm (beats per minute). When exercising, it’s important to remember that (just like humans), horses have aerobic and anaerobic thresholds or “exercise where the heart can effectively pump enough blood to deliver oxygen to all the muscles and the rest of the body” and “exercise where the heart cannot effectively pump quite the amount of oxygen needed to all parts of the body.” In humans, this is the difference between exercise where you can still talk to people around you vs. exercise where you are only able to breathe heavily. A horse’s aerobic heart rate is 100-165 bpm, while their anaerobic heart rate is 165-185, and these should slow back to a normal heart rate between two and ten minutes. If the bpm does not slow, you should watch your horse for other signs of distress.
- Respiration- Typical respiration should be about 10-24 breaths per minute while at rest or just walking.
- Temperature- 99-101℉; Obviously, a horse exerting itself during exercise will have a higher temperature, and a horse out in the heat will too. However, 103℉ is essentially a fever for your horse, and it’s important to find ways to cool them down as soon as possible.
- Hydration- Mucous membranes inside the nostrils and the gums are moist and a healthy, pink color: while dehydration doesn’t necessarily cause heat stroke, it can make it much, much worse. Make sure your horse has access to clean drinking water at all times, and if you notice that their mucous membranes are discolored or dry, give them access to water and call a vet as soon as possible.
- Sweat: this is different for every horse. It’s up to you to know how much your horse usually sweats so that you can watch for abnormally high or low amounts at any given time.
So how do you prevent heat stroke in your horse? You preemptively keep them cool. How do you do that? You take these simple steps below.
Wait Until Cooler Parts of the Day to Turn Out
If you keep your horses in a stall but turn them out at certain times of day, make sure to wait until cooler times like early morning or evening. In fact, turning them out at night is the ideal option, as it will always be coolest then.
Have Water Available
We already mentioned this, but it’s very important and bears repeating again. Water should be clean, readily available, and kept in shaded/cooler areas if possible. Make sure to refill buckets and troughs throughout the day, and regularly wash them (even if they don’t look dirty!) to keep algae and other things from growing in the water.
Many people provide their horses with salt licks, and if you don’t, you certainly should during hot weather. Consuming the salt helps your horse to retain water better so they don’t dehydrate as quickly. Horses should consume about 2oz per day, and you can determine this by either giving them 2oz portions or regularly weighing their salt blocks. For an alternative, you can also mist hay with a bit of salt water to encourage them to drink more. In addition to salt, you can also provide your horse with electrolytes. While this doesn’t mean “give your horse gatorade,” it does mean you can put Gatoradeyte supplements into their water to help keep their bodies hydrated and balanced. However, always make sure that they have a plain water source as well, as not all horses will drink electrolyte water, and too many electrolytes can be harmful.
Water Parks for Horses
No, this doesn’t mean that there’s actually a place to take your horse where they can join in you racing down slides or jumping through a wave pool; it just means have water cooling stations for your equine, but feel free to get creative with them! Hosing down a hot horse with cool water is always an easy and effective way to lower their body temperatures, but maybe consider installing misters, fans, and misting fans in and around your horse’s stall. You could also create “misting stations” outside, and some horses even enjoy sprinkler systems! Find out what your horse likes best, and provide it to the best of your abilities/space restraints.
Some other Quick Tips
- If you have a pack of horses, make sure that older/weaker/less-dominant horses still have access to water, shade, etc. because younger, stronger horses may try to keep them away
- Put fly sheets on white and light-colored horses to help avoid sunburn, and put sunscreen on vulnerable areas of all horses (especially on faces)
- Plant more trees in pasture areas for more shade
- Clip coats to keep them short
- You can also use cooling wraps after you exercise your horses
Enjoy the Summer
By keeping your horse comfortable and cool, you’ll both have a better summer by avoiding health and medical issues. You can still take those summer rides and keep your horse active even in the summer months, but just remember to keep them cool. If it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for them.