For many people, the summer months bring more shows, more trail riding, and overall more time spent with our horses. But, when temperatures get hot, our horses are at higher risk of overheating, and they rely on us as owners to keep them comfortable and safe.
By implementing some simple precautions, you can help your horse beat the heat this summer.
Risk of Heat Stress
Like humans, a horse’s key cooling mechanism is sweat evaporation. They heat up, they sweat, the sweat evaporates from their skin and allows them to cool down. But, as the temperature gets hotter and more humid, the effectiveness of this mechanism gradually decreases, until your horse is incapable of cooling himself down.
If you are ever concerned about your horse’s risk of heat stress, calculating the heat index can help you determine what level risk your horse is at.
If the sum of the temperature and relative humidity (%) is:
- 130 or less – Low Risk, your horse’s cooling mechanism should be working effectively.
- 140 to 170 – Moderate Risk, your horse’s cooling mechanism should be partially functioning, the horse may need some assistance cooling down.
- Greater than 180 – High Risk, your horse’s cooling mechanism is essentially ineffective.
When your horse needs assistance cooling himself down, the following are options that can be used to help. Whether to prevent your horse from becoming too hot, or to cool him down after he’s gotten too hot, these are extremely useful things to know as horse owners.
To keep your barn nice and cool, you’ll want to keep air moving. You can use the process of convection (hot air rises, cold air sinks) to your advantage here and, at the very least, you’ll want to leave windows and doors open during the heat of the day.
Because hot air rises, air will come into your barn through your open windows and doors and, as it warms up, will rise. As the warm air rises, cooler air will move into its place. This will provide some air flow through your barn.
In ideal cases, vents in your barn ceiling would provide a place for this air to escape so the barn is not holding in hot air.
If you are looking to help air flow even more, fans in the barn and aisleways can help keep air circulating to cool your horse, and you! Be sure to keep any extension or power cords safely away from where any curious ponies can get them though.
Aside from keeping cool, air circulation is also great for insect control. Flies are less likely to attempt to fly through moving air, so they are less likely to enter your barn and land on your horses. You kill two birds with one stone!
Whenever possible, you will want to avoid mid-day workouts for your horse. Early morning or late evening are the coolest times of the day, so whenever possible workouts should be scheduled during these times.
If you must ride during the peak of the heat, try to ride lighter, for shorter periods of time. For example, rather than having one, one-hour-long session, maybe do two half-hour sessions with time for your horse to cool down, hydrate, and rest in between.
Also, remember to calculate the heat index to make sure it is safe to work your horse.
Horses should have access to fresh, clean water at all times. The only time a horse should ever be limited on their water intake is during or immediately after a heavy workout. Then, the horse should have access to water in moderation, and should not be allowed to take large gulps, multiple small drinks are preferred.
If you are worried your horse is not drinking enough water, you can add table salt, or other supplements, to their feed to help them to replenish electrolytes and encourage them to drink more water. Access to a salt or mineral block can also help with this and a horse will actually replenish what they need in terms of electrolytes/minerals when given free access to these.
Check out our fun pony popsicle recipe to help replenish electrolytes as well as keep your horse cool!
Hosing Down a Hot Horse
Growing up, I was always told to never hose down a hot horse, or you could cause them to colic. After some research, I’ve found this is a myth.
It is actually good practice to get in the habit of hosing down your horse after a workout, or even just on a hot day, to help them cool down.
The water evaporating off their skin acts like sweat and actually helps them to cool down even after you’ve finished hosing them. Be sure to scrape excess water off of your horse so hot water is not just sitting on them.
Hosing your horse down in the heat is a great way to lower their body temperature and make them more comfortable.
Keeping your horse protected from the sun is just as important as keeping them from overheating. Obviously, the sun can contribute to overheating and heat stress, but sunburn can also cause some serious issues for horses.
There are lots of products on the market to help protect our horses from the sun as well as precautions we can take as owners to help.
For more detailed information on the importance of sun protection for horses, check out our blog post: Sun Protection for Horses.
In general, I prefer 24/7 turnout. But, I know that this is not ideal for every horse. If you are keeping your horse in during certain times, night turnout is always available to help keep your horse cool.
I understand that this is not a viable option for everyone, not everyone has a place that they can bring their horse inside. But, this option does protect your horse during the warmest, sunniest, and most buggy parts of the day.
By turning out at night not only are you keeping your horse cool, but you are also providing them with relief from sunburn and insects, assuming they are shielded from these things in their stall.
By taking precautions and implementing these solutions, your horse should be equipped to beat the heat this summer and be ready for anything. Prepare for a warm, happy summer with lots of time spent in the saddle with peace of mind that your horse is safe and comfortable!
After a 4 year riding hiatus, I bought my paint mare, Redeemer, back after graduating college. I felt like I had learned all I needed to learn about horses, but since bringing Deem home, I’ve learned a lot MORE. This was my biggest inspiration to The Horse Redeemer, realizing that with horses, you’re never done learning.
The horse industry is constantly evolving, and there is so much information that goes unheard and unseen by so many people. From what equipment works best and horse care, to becoming a better rider and staying confident, I wanted to help people and their horses just like so many people have helped me and my horses along the way. You can always improve, and you should never stop learning.
Maybe you’re an avid equestrian, maybe you love horses but have none of your own. The Horse Redeemer is a blog for horse lovers and equestrians alike, sharing all things equine.