While we may love the warm weather, animals are especially susceptible to the heat, particularly horses because they live outdoors without the benefit of blasting cold air. If you are like me, I am always on alert during the summer months – checking the forecast and adjusting my horse caring routine based on the ever-changing temperatures. This summer in the northeast where I live, the days stretch on and on with soaring temps in the 90’s and humidity that you can cut with a knife and fork. I know that most horse enthusiasts are keenly aware of anything that may impact the health and happiness of your beloved companions, but I hope that the below tips offer additional considerations/ideas during your time of vigilance.
1. Know your horse and signs of heat stroke. Heat stroke can happen anytime your horse is exposed to excessive heat that his body cannot handle. Heat stroke can happen if exercising in hot conditions, but it can also happen if standing in a hot stall or trailer. If you are concerned that your horse is suffering from heat stroke, call your veterinarian immediately and get your horse into a cooler environment. You should know your horse’s normal temperature, heart, and respiratory rates. To find the heart rate of a horse, simply find a pulse and count the beats for 15 seconds, then multiply that number by four, which will give the beats per minute. Count the breaths per minute in a similar way. Signs of heat stroke can include:
· An elevated heart rate that does not return to normal in a reasonable period of time;
· Excessive sweating or lack of sweating;
· Temperature that persists above 103°F;
· Depression and/or lethargy; and
· Signs of dehydration: dry mucous membranes, poor capillary refill, and poor skin turgor.
2. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Provide him with fresh, cool water always and encourage him to drink by having a salt lick nearby and accessible. Salt licks also replace electrolytes lost when sweating.
3. If you see signs that your horse is sweating, mist or hose him off with cool (not cold) water. Mist your horse is particularly good because as moisture is absorbed from your horse’s skin, it will take away some of the heat. Frequent misting’s are far more effective than a single hosing.
4. Make sure she has adequate shade, either in the form of trees, a run-in shelter or stall with a fan or fans.
5. Create a breezy barn. Fans will help air out your barn and keep stabled horses cool and relaxed. Always ensure that your horse can’t get a hold of cords and plugs.
6. Consider providing access to pasture overnight or in the early morning and late evenings and keep him stabled during the hottest hours of the day.
7. If you notice that your horse is stressed from the heat, take his temperature. Be already familiar with his normal temp first. With this information, take his temp and if its elevated, hose him in the shade, remove excess water with a scraper, and take his temperature again until his normal temperature is reached
8. Ride in the early morning or evening only. We may be comfortable during the day, but your horse will not be, and he is working. Also, riding conservatively will ensure your horse’s comfort and safety. Take her tack off as soon as you’re done and sponge again with cool water.
9. Apply sunscreen to vulnerable areas. horses with white markings on their faces are particularly susceptible to sunburn. Apply a high-quality, high SPF sunscreen (marketed for humans or equine use) to his nose.
10. Clip horses with longer hair coats. Clipping is important, especially for those with pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID, or Cushing’s disease). 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. Be careful not to clip the hair too close, however, as it provides some protection from damaging rays.