When the weather is hot, horses are susceptible to heat stress. Enjoy these tips for summer horse riding, and you’ll help your mount stay healthy and comfortable.
How Heat Affects Horses
Left to their own devices, horses seek out cool, shady spots during hot, humid summer days. Their activity naturally increases a bit during the cooler morning and evening hours, and the feeling of a breeze might bring them out into the sun for a while. But what about horse riding? If you are feeling the heat of the sun beating down on you, then your horse is feeling it too. It takes between 15 and 20 minutes of moderate exercise for a horse’s temperature to increase to a dangerous level in hot, humid weather. The proteins in the horse’s muscles then begin to cook, and colic, renal failure, and hypotension can follow soon after.
Preventing Heat Injuries
Horses rely on sweating to cool off, just as we humans do. In cool, dry conditions, they can release between 15 and 20 quarts of sweat per hour; the amount jumps to an average of 30 quarts per hour when the weather gets hot and humid. Drinking water helps, but it doesn’t replace the salt that’s lost through sweating, meaning it’s vital that horses working in hot weather be provided with an electrolyte solution. Proper hydration is your best defense against heat’s harmful effects.
Acclimatizing your horse to work in hot conditions can be very helpful too. During spring, ride during the warmest part of the day. Gradually increase the amount of heat exposure, and work at least five days each week. If you’re showing your horse, you’ll notice that he performs better when he’s been acclimatized properly than if you are normally exercising him only in the morning and evening and then taking him to shows in the middle of hot days.
If pleasure riding is your goal, stick with the cooler times of day while ensuring that you take precautions against heat exhaustion. This isn’t just better for your horse, it’s also better for you! Don’t ride a poorly conditioned horse in hot weather, thinking that because he is large he’ll be able to handle the work. Bring him into exercise over a period of weeks so that his body has time to adjust.
The right equipment can also be helpful. A saddle pad that wicks away moisture to help the horse stay cool is a must.
Know the Signs of Horse Heat Exhaustion
Your horse may sweat even during cold weather workouts so sweat in the saddle area and on the neck are signs that his body is functioning normally. If he begins to flood sweat and it’s dripping off of him, he is much too hot. In addition, watch for the following symptoms:
- Increased body temperature (normal is 99.5 – 100.5 F)
- Increased heart rate (normal is 24-36 beats per minute)
- Drawn up flanks
- Quivering muscles
- Muscles Tying up
- Horse dropping down to roll or throwing himself on the ground
If your horse is displaying any of the signs listed above, consider it an emergency and get him into the shade. Take the saddle off and start cooling him with water. Call the vet immediately if you suspect heatstroke; better yet, do not work your horse to the point of exhaustion.
Cooling Off After Work
Cool down is important after every workout, but even more important after summer horse riding adventures. When your horse is hot, seek a shady spot to help speed up the cooling process. After riding, rinse with cool (not ice cold) water and use a sweat scraper to remove it. Keep repeating the rinsing and scraping process. If you do this for ten minutes, you’ll reduce your horse’s body temperature by two degrees.
Once you’ve finished rinsing and scraping, allow your horse to dry, preferably in the shade. Offer him a drink and let him relax. Be sure to apply insect spray after he’s dry, or have him wear a fly sheet if you prefer. Do wait until he’s completely dry to put the fly sheet on though, as it will slow the evaporation process and possibly cause your horse’s temperature to come up again.
If your horse has overheated, watch him closely for several hours. Horses that look fine an hour or so after riding and cooling down may still be overheated and may succumb to heat exhaustion.