Lately I have written about summer topics like the importance of electrolytes and automatic waterers. This year’s summer is shaping up to be one for the record books in many parts of the country. With heat waves gripping the nation, broken up only by heavy storms with damaging wind and flooding rains, how is a horseman supposed to keep the horses healthy, safe, and fit during all this extreme weather? Here are five tips to keep your horses happy during as we head towards the dog days of summer.
1. Water for everyone: Water in buckets, water in bottles, water on backs — water is the key to summer safety when the temperature and humidity are climbing. Keep buckets of clean water in front of your horse, flavoring it with apple slides or bites of carrot if you have a reluctant drinker. Make sure you’re always within easy reach of your own water bottle when working or riding. And don’t be afraid to splash it on liberally when you or your horse are hot! Remember that the key to cooling with a bath is evaporation. If the air is humid, scrape the water off your horse as soon as you can—otherwise you’ll be creating a bubble of insulating moisture between your horse’s hot body and any chance of a cooling breeze.
2. Lighten up tack and coats — horse coats, that is. Some horses can use a clip job even in summer. Horses with metabolic conditions, horses with draft blood, and horses who come from cold climates might have a thick enough coat they’d actually benefit from a mid-summer trim. Even if they don’t need an extra clipping, look carefully at your tack. Change out heavy sheepskin and thick poly saddle-pads for light cotton or new technical fabrics that help wick moisture away and keep your horse’s skin breathing throughout their workout.
3. Keep horses clean: your horse might find a roll in a mud puddle refreshing, but when you bring him in, get that mud off and get his coat dry again. Bacterial conditions like rain rot thrive in hot, humid weather. This nasty condition causes painful scabs to form, often across the horse’s back, hindquarters, and along the cannon bones. Because it’s hard to kick once it gets a foothold, and can actually require antibiotics and time off work in severe cases, you’re best off rubbing your horse dry with a clean towel if the weather is keeping him damp.
4. Get serious about insect control: Keeping down flies and mosquitoes requires a two-pronged approach, especially as insect larvae flourish in hot, humid conditions. First, eliminate breeding areas wherever you can—this means keeping manure far from barns, picking out paddocks and arenas, and making sure no old buckets or wheelbarrows are storing stagnant water for mosquitoes to spawn in. Second, protect your horse (and yourself!) against biting insects with fly spray, fly sheets, and moving air — stall fans actually help prevent flies from biting your horse! Summer is prime time to skin conditions and allergies to crop up, as squadrons of biting insects are born on a daily basis.
5. Learn your horse’s TPR. Monitoring TPR — that’s Temperature, Pulse, and Respiration — can help you determine if a sweating, unhappy horse is in need of veterinary attention for heat stress. Write down your resting horse’s TPR ahead of time, taking a few samples for the best idea of what to expect. Find your horse’s pulse, count the beats for 15 seconds, and multiply your answer by 4 to get the heart rate per minute. Do the same with breaths, and take a temperature. With this baseline, you can judge if your horse might be suffering from heatstroke. Look for an elevated heart rate, excessive sweating (or no sweat at all), a temperature above 103 F, depression, and dehydration.
Horses are cool-weather animals, and hot weather in a good year can bring them down a little bit. Add in a record-breaking summer of heat, and the recipe is right for a host of problems. Pay close attention to the weather, and your horse’s happiness, and you can get through the hot season without health issues. And don’t forget to stay hydrated!