Summertime means a busy time for everyone in the horse industry because when the temperatures heat up, so does the competition. It’s easy to get swept away in the drive for perfection, but riders need to be more conscious of their horses’ health in the sweltering summer heat now more than ever.
First and foremost, ensure that your horse has access to fresh, clean, cool water at all times, whether he’s out to pasture, in his stall, or being worked. Experts say it is a myth that a hot horse drinking water will experience colic or other medical issues, so even having buckets of water along the arena will ensure your horse can stay hydrated even during a workout.
If you feel like your horse has been sweating excessively, offer electrolytes specifically made for horses. It’s best to discuss this practice with your veterinarian, first, and always make sure your horse has access to water at all times. Electrolytes help replenish vitamins and minerals your horse might sweat out and need to stay healthy.
Having salt accessible to your horse at all times would help him meet his requirement for sodium and chloride. During the heat of the summer, this requirement increases from one to two ounces of salt to four to six ounces of salt per day. Salt is an important nutrient because without the right amount, your horse might develop a bad habit of licking and chewing objects with have salt on them, and will decrease the amount of water intake, which can cause impaction colic.
Nutrition is still just as important in the heat of the summer as the chill of winter. Horse owners need to make sure they avoid feeding excessive protein—this can cause additional metabolic heat during the digestion process, thus increasing your horse’s internal temperature. Crude protein should be no more than 12 – 14 percent of the total ration for a working mature horse, and an idle mature horse should be closer to 10 percent.
Trainers in the hot South have learned that the best times to ride are early in the morning or later in the evening, when the sun isn’t beating down on the arena and the humidity is lower. While still allowing for ample warm-up and cool-down periods, shorten your training sessions and provide plenty of breaks for your horse to catch his breath, preferably in the shade.
Provide fans in the barns and stalls, as well as horse trailers, if available. Allowing for plenty of airflow will keep your horse cooler and keep bugs from bothering him. Be sure that the fan is safe for use in a barn and electrical cords are kept out of horse’s reach.
After every ride, spray down your horse with cool (or normal, just not hot) water. If he’s been outside all day, consider doing the same before you bring him in at night.
How do you know if your horse is overheating and maybe starting to suffer from heat exhaustion? According to the University of California, Davis, common signs include:
- Decrease in energy level and a reluctance to keep going (i.e., stumbling, weakness)
- Body temperature is 102-106 degrees Fahrenheit
- Persistent respiratory rate that does not come down with rest over 10-30 minutes (normal is 20-40 breaths per minute)
- Decreased gut sounds
- Prolonged capillary refill time
- Dry mucous membranes in the mouth (they should feel slimy)