Keeping your horse happy in the heat
Summer is a great time of year to enjoy outdoor hobbies, but equine enthusiasts know managing horses during hot weather can be a challenge. Keeping your horse cool, comfortable and safe during the summer is vital. At Champion Stables, a horse’s comfort is always at the top of our thinking, so here are five things to keep in mind to ensure your horses are happy during those searing Australian heatwaves.
1. Water for everyone
Water in buckets, water in bottles, water on backs — it’s obvious but water is the key to summer safety when the temperature is climbing. Make sure your horse has access to plenty of fresh, clean cool water. If you have a reluctant drinker, try flavouring the water with apple slices or bits of carrot. Another way to utilise water to cool down is to install a misting system. When installed in a barn it introduces a steady supply of water to the air in the form of ultra-fine droplets which evaporate before they hit the ground. A correctly installed misting system creates a curtain of mist, which can reduce temperatures in the immediate area dramatically. Misting systems repel flying insects and reduce the level of dust and airborne particles in the environment, making them beneficial to equine respiratory health as well as keeping your horse cool. Don’t forget to make sure you’re always within easy reach of your own water bottle when working or riding and don’t be afraid to splash it on liberally when you or your horse is hot.
2. Summer clip
Horses with metabolic conditions, horses with draft blood and horses which come from cold climates might have thick enough coats they’d benefit from a mid-summer trim. While some coat can provide protection from the sun and insulation, a long, thick coat tends to hold heat and makes it difficult for the horse to cool down. If you are working your horse over the summer months, clipping their coat will help them cool down quicker. There are a number of different clipping designs that can be done to keep your horse cool if you don’t want to do a whole body clip. Keep in mind that if you do a whole body clip that your horse will need more protection from the sun and insects than a trace clip for example. Even if your horse doesn’t need clipping, look carefully at your tack. Change out heavy sheepskin and thick poly saddle-pads for light cotton or new technical fabrics that help wick moisture away and keep your horse’s skin breathing throughout their workout. If you have to work your horse in the heat, try and work your schedule to be in the cooler part of the day and lighten the work or spread it out over a couple of short sessions. This is especially important when the humidity is high, contributing to the poor quality of the air your horse is breathing. Cool your horse down slowly, and offer frequent sips of cool water. Take the tack off as soon as you’re done and hose your horse off with cool water. Remember to clean your tack when it gets sweaty, not only to protect your gear but to also prevent sores or galls forming due to rubbing on your horses’ skin.
3. Keep horses clean
Your horse might find a roll in a mud puddle refreshing, but when you bring him in, get that mud off and get his coat dry again. Bacterial conditions like rain rot thrive in hot, humid weather. This nasty condition causes painful scabs to form, often across the horse’s back, hindquarters, and along the cannon bones.
Champion Stables offers custom horse wash stalls to suit your needs. Click here for information.
4. Insect control
Keeping down flies and mosquitoes requires a two-pronged approach, especially as insect larvae flourish in hot, humid conditions. First, eliminate breeding areas wherever you can—this means keeping manure far from barns, picking out paddocks and arenas, and making sure no old buckets or wheelbarrows are storing stagnant water for mosquitoes to spawn in.
Second, protect your horse (and yourself) against biting insects with fly spray, rugs, and moving air — stall fans help prevent flies from biting your horse. There are a range of different rugs available on the market to cater for different horse requirements so you can get the best option to suit your horses’ needs. Keep in mind that if your horse has a whole body clip, they will need extra protection from the sun and insects’ so finding the appropriate rug to keep them cool and protected is important.
5. Know your horse’s temperature, pulse and respiration
Monitoring temperature, pulse and respiration (TPR) can help you determine if a sweating, unhappy horse is in need of veterinary attention for heat stress.
It is important to know your horse’s normal vital signs as there can be great variation between every horse. By knowing these signs, you will be able to recognise if the values are abnormal in the case of heat stress or other medical emergencies.
Signs of heat stress can include:
- Elevated heart rate (>50 beat/min)
- Excessive sweating or no sweating at all
- Rapid breathing rate and panting (>20 breaths / min)
- Abnormally high temperatures (>38°)
- Dry and/or hot skin
- Depression and/or lethargy
A simple pinch test is an easy way for you to determine if you horse is dehydrated as a result of heat stress. When you pinch the skin on your horse’s neck it should resume its original position immediately. If the skin takes a while to go back, it is likely that the horse is somewhat dehydrated.
If you are concerned that your horse is suffering from heat stress, call your veterinarian immediately.
While you wait, move your horse into a shady position and encourage them to drink some cool water in small but frequent amounts. Hose them down with cool water, take them for a short walk, then return and continue hosing. Direct the hose to the insides of the horse’s legs, head and neck where their large blood vessels are located close to the surface.
It is important to ensure that your horse has plenty of ventilation and access to a cool breeze as convection will help to cool the horse quicker. If ventilation and a cool breeze are not available, produce an artificial breeze with fans and air conditioners.