Summertime brings the heat and while we all try to keep cool, we cannot forget about our horses. Be aware that similar to humans, horses can overheat, resulting in dehydration, lack of energy, and overall discomfort; severe heat stress can lead to diarrhea, colic, and in the worst cases, death.
1.Mist your horse
If you have the option to provide a misting system for your horse, this will be very helpful. Just like people, the water helps cool body temperature even if it is not being consumed. As the moisture is absorbed into the horse’s skin, it will begin to bring its temperature back to normal. Although single dowsing with a hose may seem sufficient, frequent misting will be far more effective in the summer heat.
2.Know your horse and signs of heat exhaustion
Typically, horses can maintain their body temperature in two primary and interrelated mechanisms. The first method involves the dilation of capillaries which begins when the heat is absorbed into their skin. The heat then disappears to the outside air until the capillaries can no longer maintain releasing body heat. The body then begins to start the secondary mechanism, sweating. Due to exercise or outside temperature, a horse begins to sweat through the pores in their skin. One tip to determine your horse activities is to consult the Heat Stress Index (HSI). This is a reasonable estimate on deciding what you can expect your horse to do depending on temperature and relative humidity. The HSI is calculated by adding the current outdoor temperature to the relative humidity level. (For example, if it is 60 degrees outside and the humidity is 60%, that equals 120 HSI.)
- HSI is 120 or less: It is ok to ride or work the horse.
- HSI is 120-150: Use caution and reduce activity, take extra water and breaks.
- HSI is 150-170: Use extreme caution because the horses’ cooling mechanism is compromised.
- HSI is 180 or higher: danger level. Horses cannot regulate average body temperature during exercise. Do not go riding and keep the horse in a shaded area with extra water.
3.Cooler turnout times
The early morning and late afternoon will be the coolest time of the day to bring your horse out. It would not be smart to have your horse out in the middle of the day when it is hottest. Don’t forget that the heat can also affect your pasture forage, so provide extra hay as needed. Of course, the ideal time to turn out your horse is overnight.
4.Provide shade and air
If your horse must be outside during the day, provide shade at all times. Remember that as the day goes on, the sun will move, and trees may not suffice for shade, but a run-in shed will. The shed can serve as shade but also a great spot for water and extra hay. (Sometimes adding more electrolytes to their diets will provide even more support.) Putting fans in your barn is another great way to keep your horses comfortable.
5.Stick to a schedulE
As the temperature begins to rise, look to make adjustments into your horse’s daily schedule. Too much change can cause a horse to colic and cause more stress for you. Instead of rushing the changes and risking health issues, make small changes over time. Their schedules don’t have to change a lot, a few small changes will do the trick. As a safety measure, introduce a change and continue it for 2-3 days until you introduce other changes. Your horse may react differently to these changes, so take your time and let them be the judge.
It is essential to provide the right tools for your horse to be safe. Follow these tips to make sure your horse avoids heat exhaustion. Turning out horses at cooler times, use of fans and misters, and an additional source of electrolytes all help your horse cope with hot summer days. These are the little things we can to make our big friends feel a little better and help them live a long healthy life.