We’re looking at plenty of high heat index ratings over the next few days, and we want to make sure your horse is prepared for it. There are a few things you can and should do to protect your horse as they get used to this summer sun, so read on, and take care of yourself AND your horse.
Your horse needs protection from the direct sun while turned out in the pasture. If you have plenty of trees to serve as shade, make sure that the shade is going to be accessible throughout the day, not just when the sun is in one spot. If you have a run-in shed, all the better.
Provide fresh water
This is a no-brainer, as your horse should have fresh, accessible water no matter if the ambient temperature outside is freezing cold or steaming hot. Make sure that the water is frequently changed and that your horse is drinking appropriately. Your horse will likely drink more water than usual this week, and that’s great. And don’t forget that the myths about horses drinking water after exercise are just that — MYTHS! Allow your horse access to plenty of fresh, cool water during and after exercise — he’ll thank you for it. Access to a salt block may encourage your horse to drink more while in the pasture or stalled. Similarly, water supplemented with electrolytes may help your horse in replenishing the salts they lose from sweating in this heat. If you do offer water laced with electrolytes, make sure your horse also has access to fresh, clean water, in case you have a picky drinker. Do not go overboard on electrolytes – if your horse has never used them before, call the office to find out the appropriate amount to give.
Move air in closed spaces
Having air move over your sweaty horse will increase evaporation and speed the cooling process. Adding a barn fan to your aisles or stalls will increase comfort and enhance air movement. Don’t forget that open motor fans are a fire hazard – they suck in dust and increase resistance. Try to purchase an enclosed motor fan for barn safety.
Acclimate to the heat slowly
There is a common misconception that you should acclimate your horse to the heat by exercising in the hottest part of the day. However, acclimatization takes around two to three weeks of regular exercise for your horse. Don’t jump them into intense exercise in the middle of the day. Wait until the sun is settling or start early in the day to give your horse a more gentle reintroduction to these summer heat waves.
Cool him down
Another no-brainer. When we’re in a heat wave, make sure you spend more time cooling your horse down. As soon as you’re done working, remove his tack and offer him water. Sponge him off, or even better, hose him off, fully so that sweat doesn’t stick to his skin and irritate him. Make sure his breathing has returned to a normal rate prior to putting him in a stall or a pasture.
Know the signs of heat stroke and dehydration
Your horse doesn’t need to be working intensely to suffer from heat stroke. Any time a horse is subjected to heat that his body cannot handle, he may suffer from heat stroke or dehydration – this may include simply standing in the sun without any shade available. Common signs of heat stroke include profuse or lack of sweating, a high rectal temperature, lethargy, slow capillary refill time, and an elevated heart and/or respiratory rate. Common signs of dehydration include poor skin elasticity, slow capillary refill time, and dry/tacky mucous membranes.
How do you know if your horse has these indications? You must first know your horse’s baseline vitals. Make sure you can perform a complete physical exam, and document your findings so that you know your horse’s normals. Take ten minutes to watch this video from Dr. Ketover, and you’ll be better prepared to identify the signs of heat stroke and dehydration in your horse.
We are, as always, on call in case of emergency. Please call the office if you are concerned about heat stroke or dehydration.
By Howard Ketover, DVM