The hottest days of the year are upon us. And if you think you’re hot on a sticky, ninety-degree day, imagine how your horse feels!
Horses and humans come from two different worlds. Horses were adapted to the arctic climes: between thirty and sixty degrees Fahrenheit, horses don’t expend energy to stay warm or cool. Humans come from the warm equatorial regions of the earth: until they figured out clothes, they were pretty much relegated to staying someplace warm. And now, North America, we all live together in varying degrees of temperate zones, from the sub-tropical south to the arid deserts of the southwest, and the more varying weather across the northern tier. In the summertime, though, we are pretty much all hot. And horses are much hotter than we are. Humans are fairly well-designed for releasing heat, but horses retain, absorb, and produce heat at a much higher rate.
You already know that it is best to ride early in the morning or in the cool of the evening to help your horse stay cool and comfortable. But over-heating isn’t just an exercise problem. Hot days are hot for horses all day long. Keep them more comfortable, and reduce the risk of illness, with these tips.
Just Apply Water. Water is the most basic tool for removing heat from any situation. Wood fire? Apply water. Hot child? Take them to the pool. Hot horse? Hose them down. Horses sweat when they are hot, and the evaporation of sweat removes heat and cools them down. Sponging down a horse on a warm day, even while he is working, the way an endurance rider will do, provides the relief of evaporation without making the horse sweat so much. In addition to providing the cooling sensation, you are helping your horse stay hydrated.
In extremely hot and humid temperatures, though, evaporation stops. The air is already saturated. In this case, put cool water on the horse and then scrape it off immediately. Leaving water to sit on a hot horse in humid temperatures does your horse more harm than good: the water gets hot quickly, and then sits like a blanket between his skin and the air. Give your hot horse a good splash with water, paying special attention to the hottest areas (the neck, the chest, the saddled area if he has been ridden) and then scrape the water off as quickly as you can. And repeat, until his temperature comes down.
Add a Gentle Breeze. Moving air aids the natural evaporation process. On a breezy day, Mother Nature is taking care of it for you. On a still day, keep a fan nearby for cooling out a hot horse. The blowing air will speed evaporation while you are sponging and scraping your horse.
If you do not have ceiling fans in your barn (a feature of many southern stables) consider other ways to keep the air moving in your horse’s stall. Stalls with bars on the front are ideal for adding box fans: you can attach the box fan to the outside of the stall with bungee cords. Just be certain that no part of the electrical cord is accessible to inquisitive horse lips. Horsemen with shed-rows or other barn styles that do not have open stall fronts often set up a high-power fan in front of each stall door, well out of reach of the horse, in order to keep air moving in the horse’s stall.
Tack and Grooming. A thick sheepskin saddle pad might seem nice in spring, but by July, it is like a heating pad on your horse’s back. Consider light-weight saddle towels, and keep tack that touches your horse’s skin scrupulously clean and rinsed carefully of soap. Thin coats and sweaty skin are much more susceptible to sores and infections from dirty tack. Have you ever clipped a horse in summer? Some breeds, especially horses with draft blood, never really stop growing a thick coat. These cold-climate horses are especially prone to over-heating. Experiment with a body clip and you might be surprised how much hair comes off. You can also do a trim by running the clippers with the hairs, instead of against them.
Keeping your horse cool during the summer is not always easy, but using these tips and watching him closely for signs of overheating will get you both through the dog days of summer. For hydration tips, http://www.equinefacilitydesign.com/equine-care/preventing-dehydration-in-horses.htm.