The summer period brings longer days which means lots of opportunities for you and your horse to go out and enjoy the weather. But with the summer months becoming hotter and dryer, it is important to keep your horses safe from dehydration, sunburn and heatstroke. We have a few simple steps you can take to prevent heat-related issues, as well as some ideas to help when your horse is suffering from heat-induced stress and illness.
Research shows that working horses will struggle in temperatures above 28°C. In addition, be careful if the humidity is high as high humidity will reduce the effectiveness of evaporative cooling by sweating. Therefore, providing access to shade is imperative, whether that be natural shade from trees or constructed shelters. This is particularly important for elderly horses and foals. If your horse is usually stabled at night and out during the day, you can consider reversing their turnout times to avoid the hottest times of day and the worst of the flies and insects.
Horses typically need to drink around 55 litres of water every day, and more so in warmer weather. Ideally, natural streams, large troughs or automatic watering systems would be used as a bucket would need to be topped up often. As horses rely on sweating to cool themselves down they will need a continuous supply of water to replenish what is lost throughout the day, so as well as a ready supply of fresh drinking water, a salt lick helps replace lost salts during the sweating process.
Grey horses, and those with pink areas of skin, especially on the face, can be extremely prone to being sunburnt. Before going outside, apply a child-safe Factor 50 sun cream to sensitive areas to reduce the risk of sunburn. Additionally, a fly mask with UV-reducing properties may be beneficial to protect their face.
Grooming & Clipping
Well-groomed horses will be able to cool down more efficiently. This is because a horse’s coat acts as insulation, and if it’s dirty or matted, it can prevent heat from escaping. Regular grooming will remove dirt, sweat, and loose hair from your horse’s coat, which will help them stay cool. In addition, older horses with Cushing’s disease or even just those with a thick summer coat may benefit from being clipped in the summer. Hunter clips are ideal for summer as the saddle area is left to reduce the chance of saddle sores, and the legs are left to protect against scratches. The rest of the body is then clipped to aid with sweating and cooling.
During hot weather, it’s important to limit your horse’s exercise to the cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or late evening. If your horse needs to be exercised or you are carriage driving during the day, take frequent breaks and provide them with access to water. It’s also important to monitor your horse’s breathing and heart rate and stop exercising them if they appear to be struggling. This is also true when travelling with your horse in a horsebox or trailer as it avoids the heat and the worst of the traffic; when your vehicle is moving it will provide natural ventilation keeping your horse cooler. After exercise, be sure to wash your horse thoroughly to remove sweat that may irritate the skin when dry and the cold water will act as a coolant as evaporation eliminates heat. If necessary scrape one load of cold water off once it feels warm to the touch, before applying more fresh cold water.
Check for Signs of Dehydration
One of the easiest ways to check your horse for dehydration is to gently lift their upper lip and look at their gums. They should be pink, shiny, and slippery, whereas dehydration will make them pale, dry and tacky in texture. A quick test includes applying some light pressure to your horse’s gums with a thumb or finger to see how long it takes for the colour to return when lifted. 1-2 seconds is a good indicator, whereas anything longer than this is a sign your horse may be dehydrated.
What To Do if Your Horse is Suffering With Heat Exhaustion or Heat Stroke?
Your horse may be suffering in the heat if you notice any of these signs:
- Fast, Shallow Breathing
- Elevated heart rate above 24-44 BPM
- Eating or drinking less
- Urinating less, and dark urine
- Muscle spasms
- Poor performance being ridden
Heat exhaustion and heatstroke can lead to issues such as unsteadiness on their feet, collapse, laminitis as well as kidney, liver and muscle damage. If your horse starts showing any of these more serious signs then call your vet immediately. In the meantime, perform emergency first aid by moving them to a shaded, cool area if possible and pouring large amounts of water over the body (using a hose if available). It may take 15 minutes of doing this before any improvement.
There are many things you can do this summer to keep your horses safe and happy in the hot summer months. Other ideas that may help include setting up a small fan in their stable to encourage airflow. As well as detracting flies by spraying stable walls with insect repellant, removing droppings from paddocks regularly and keeping the muck heap a good distance away from the stables.