As the summer months draw near and temperatures get warmer, it’s important to remember how to stay proactive and avoid overheating, for both yourself and your horse. With long days, high temperatures, and extreme humidity levels, overheating can happen fast and with little warning. Horses can fall victim to heat stress much faster than their humans, and they don’t have the words to tell us they’re overheating until it may be too late. But with proper actions on your part, you can keep your horse and yourself cool all summer long.
This is a no brainer, but when temperatures start to heat up again and we are sweating more than we’re accustomed to, hydration levels can fall fast. Drink plenty of water both before and after your ride, and snack on hydrating foods such as cucumbers, strawberries, and watermelon. If you struggle to drink enough water, use a hydration booster or find a water bottle with labels to remind you to drink throughout the day.
Similarly, always make sure your horse has access to water to stay hydrated. A quick way to tell if a horse is dehydrated is to pinch a small amount of skin on its neck; if the skin takes more than a few seconds to even back out, the horse may be dehydrated. Electrolyte supplements are a quick way to restore a horse’s hydration if it isn’t drinking enough water. You can also encourage a horse to drink water by adding apple juice or honey to their water.
2. Ride at the beginning or end of the day.
Typically, the sun is strongest in the middle of the day, heating up temperatures to their highest points in the afternoons. If you can ride first thing in the morning, you’ll likely beat the heat and can get on with the rest of your day. If you can’t ride until later in the day, wait until the sun is down and the temperatures have cooled off slightly.
3. Ride efficiently.
Over the summer, it’s important to know how to make your rides as efficient as possible so you both aren’t out in the heat working for too long. Focus on exercises that challenge your horse but don’t physically demand as much when the heat is extreme. You can get a lot done in a smaller amount of time if you are intentional about every minute in the saddle.
4. Always monitor breathing.
If you feel your horse breathing excessively or see its nostrils flaring more than normal, it may be time for a break or the end of the ride. Also be aware of how long it takes for your horse’s respiratory rate to return to normal. If a horse is struggling with labored breathing in the heat, put it in front of the fan and spray its body with rubbing alcohol to cool it down. If labored breathing continues, you may need to call your vet.
5. Shower and sweat-scrape.
Hot days can lead to sweaty horses, so cool showers feel good and help them cool down. The most important areas are the chest, neck, and between the legs. Once you spray their bodies, quickly scrape the excess water, as it can heat up on the surface of their skin quickly and cause discomfort for an already hot horse.
6. Clip winter coats.
\Though horses naturally shed their winter coats, some might need extra help getting rid of the remaining hair that may be making them extra hot. This is particularly important on really hot competition days, as significant effort is required and extra hair could lead to overheating. Keep coats clipped throughout the summer and have a sheet handy for nights when the temperature dips somewhat.
7. Wear lightweight materials.
We all have our favorite ventilated, moisture-wicking clothes we like to wear on the hottest days. Companies like EIS, Ariat, and even mainstream sports brands like Under Armour make very breathable fabrics that are ideal for riding. While we may know what keeps us coolest while riding, we also have to keep this in mind for our horses. Use saddle pads made from thinner materials that wick moisture and cover less area on the horse.
8. Adjust the turnout schedule.
If the days get too hot, you may want to turn out at night or very early in the mornings. If the sun is shining, be sure your horse has ample shade to relax in while turned out.
9. Fans, fans, fans!
There’s no such thing as too many fans in a hot barn. They help keep everyone cool on hot days and maintain proper airflow throughout the facility. It’s important that every horse has a fan in its stall, plus additional fans in the grooming areas for post-ride cooldowns and to dry them after showers. Plus, it feels pretty good to stand in front of a fan after a hot ride.
While the cold can be uncomfortable, heat can bring its own problems, so we have to be smart about how to beat the heat and keep everyone safe and healthy. Keeping all these tips in mind, you’re sure to have a great summer with your horse. You can make the most of hot summer days without fretting about overheating yourself or your horse.