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Keeping Horses Cool in Extreme Heat: Tips for Horse Owners

Last updated: October 23, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

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The mercury is soaring, and just like us, our equine friends feel the heat too. If you’ve ever wondered, “How do I keep my horses cool when it’s scorching outside?” you’re not alone. We all want the best for our horses, and ensuring they’re comfortable during the dog days of summer is a top priority.

Why? Because horses, much like humans, are susceptible to the dangers of extreme heat. Overheating can lead to dehydration, heat stress, and in severe cases, even life-threatening conditions like heatstroke. The health and well-being of our equine friends depend heavily on how well we protect them from the heat.

So, let’s dive right in and explore some tried-and-true strategies to ensure your horse stays cool, calm, and collected, even when the temperatures are anything but.

Understanding the Signs of Heat Stress:

The bond we share with our equine companions means we’re always tuned into their well-being, especially during those sweltering summer days. Just like us, horses can show clear signs when they’re feeling the heat a little too intensely. Recognizing these signs is the first step to ensuring their safety and comfort. Here’s what to keep an eye out for:

Spotting the Sweat (or the Lack of It), Have you ever noticed your horse sweating more than usual after a light trot? Or, perhaps, not sweating at all, even when it’s hot? Both can be alarming. Excessive sweating might mean they’re trying to cool off, while no sweat could indicate anhidrosis, a condition where horses lose their ability to sweat. In both scenarios, our horses need our attention.

Breathless in the Barn Rapid breathing or panting is another sign that the heat is getting to your horse. While it’s natural for them to breathe a bit faster after exercise, persistent and excessive panting in the heat is a red flag.

Picture of horses on a hot day.
Yearling trying to stay cool on a hot day.

Not Their Usual Spirited Self It’s heartbreaking to see our usually vibrant and energetic horses looking lethargic or downcast. When the sun’s blazing, and they’re not their regular selves, it could very well be the heat weighing them down.

Listen to Their Heartbeat An elevated heart rate is yet another sign your horse might be under heat stress. A normal resting heart rate for an adult horse is about 28-44 beats per minute. If it’s much higher and they haven’t been active, the heat could be the culprit.

Is Your Horse Thirsty? Check for Dehydration One quick way to check for dehydration is the skin pinch test. Pinch a fold of your horse’s skin (the neck is a good spot) and see how quickly it snaps back. If it returns slowly, it’s time to take hydration seriously.

A Closer Look at Their Urine Lastly, keep an eye on their urine. If it’s darker than usual, it might mean your horse isn’t drinking enough water, and it’s a sign of dehydration.

In the world of horse care, knowledge is power. By understanding these signs, we’re better equipped to ensure our horses are comfortable, safe, and happy, even in the fiercest of heatwaves. And remember, when in doubt, it’s always a good idea to consult your vet!

The Basics of Hydration

Ah, water. It’s the essence of life. And when the sun’s blaring and the paddocks are parched, it becomes even more crucial for our equine pals. So, how do we make sure our horses are getting the hydration they need to thrive?

A Never-Ending Stream of Freshness

Always make sure your horse has access to fresh and clean water. It sounds simple, but this constant supply is their frontline defense against the scorching heat. A horse can drink anywhere from 10 to 20 gallons a day, and during hot weather, that amount can increase. So, ensuring they always have enough fresh water isn’t just kind; it’s essential.

Keep it Clean: Troughs and Buckets Maintenance.

But it’s not just about quantity. Quality matters, too. Regularly checking their water supplies becomes crucial, especially during summer. Empty, scrub, and refill your horse’s water troughs or buckets daily if possible.

Stagnant water is a breeding ground for algae and bacteria. Plus, a clean water source is more inviting for a horse, encouraging them to drink more. And some horses refuse to drink bad-smelling water regardless of how much they need it.

Balancing the Electrolytes

Now, just like athletes might reach for a sports drink after a strenuous workout, horses can benefit from electrolyte supplementation, especially if they’ve been sweating excessively. Electrolytes are minerals that help maintain fluid balance and nerve function. When a horse sweats, they lose these valuable minerals.

But when should you provide these? If your horse has had a particularly active day or seems to be sweating more than usual, an electrolyte supplement might be in order. You can mix these into their feed, provide them as a paste, or even dissolve them in their drinking water.

However, always consult your veterinarian before starting any supplementation. They can guide you on the right product and dosage. Hydration isn’t just about providing water; it’s about ensuring the water is clean, fresh, and supplemented when necessary. By keeping these basics in mind, we can make sure our beloved horses remain healthy, happy, and high-spirited, even when the sun shows no mercy.

Picture of shade trees keeping horses cool.
Yearlings found some natural shade to stay cool.

Shade and Shelter: Giving Horses a Cool Retreat

It’s a universal truth: Everyone loves a good shady spot on a blazing hot day. Our horses? They’re no different. They, too, crave relief from the relentless sun, and it’s our duty to ensure they have the right kind of shelter to escape to when things get too heated.

Safety from the Sun

Imagine wearing a fur coat in the middle of summer. Sounds unbearable, right? That’s somewhat how our horses can feel. Direct exposure to the sun for extended periods can lead not just to discomfort but also to health issues like sunburn, especially on lighter-skinned horses. Providing adequate shelter is more than a luxury; it’s a necessity.

Nature’s Umbrella: Trees and More

Natural shade is often the best kind. If your paddock has trees or groves, you’ve got built-in sun shields. Trees not only block the sun, but they also cool the air around them, creating a pleasant micro-environment.

But what if your field is more “open plains” than “woodland retreat”? No worries! Consider setting up large canopies or even simple shelters like run-ins. These can create pockets of shade, giving horses a respite from the sun’s rays.

Breezy Barns: A Windy Win

A barn isn’t just a place to store hay or take refuge in the rain. A well-ventilated barn can be a lifesaver during heatwaves. Thick barn walls can block out the sun, while the open structure allows for a cooling breeze to flow through.

It’s like nature’s own air conditioning. Ensure the barn doors, windows, and even the roof have adequate ventilation. It can dramatically decrease the temperature, turning the barn into a cool haven for your horses.

In essence, when summer turns up the heat, making sure our horses have plenty of options to chill out becomes paramount. Whether it’s the dense shade of an old oak, a man-made shelter in the pasture, or the cool confines of a breezy barn, let’s ensure our equine friends always have a cozy corner to retreat to.

Effective Air Circulation: A Breath of Fresh Air for Your Horse

If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s the sheer relief a cool breeze brings on a stifling hot day. For our four-legged friends who spend a considerable amount of time in stables or barns, effective air circulation isn’t just about comfort—it’s essential for their overall well-being.

Fantastic Solutions for Stifling Stables

Consider installing fans in stables or barns. It’s a relatively simple solution that can make a world of difference. Fans help by circulating air, reducing the ambient temperature, and ensuring that warm, stuffy air doesn’t get trapped around your horse.

Whether ceiling-mounted or freestanding, they’re a great way to bring in that much-needed airflow. Just ensure they’re securely installed and out of reach to avoid curious noses or tails from getting too close!

Design with a Breeze in Mind

The structure of your barn plays a pivotal role in how air moves through it. A barn designed with ventilation in mind can harness the power of natural breezes. Think wide doors, strategically placed windows, and even skylights.

They not only let in light but also promote cross-ventilation. Elevated roofs or those with vents can also help hot air escape, making room for cooler air to flow in.

Maintenance: Keeping the Airways Clear

Of course, having a great barn design and fans won’t help much if everything’s clogged with dust, hay, or debris. Regular maintenance of ventilation systems is crucial. Check vents, fans, and windows to ensure they’re free of obstructions. Clean them regularly to maximize their efficiency. After all, a well-maintained system works better and lasts longer.

Ensuring effective air circulation is more than just keeping our horses comfortable. It’s about providing them with a healthier environment, especially during those scorching days. A well-ventilated space can be the difference between a horse that’s restless and uncomfortable and one that’s calm and content.

Picture of horse getting bathed
Cooling off Ashton after a workout.

Proper Grooming and Care: A Cool Makeover for Your Horse

Grooming isn’t just about keeping our horses looking their best; it plays a pivotal role in ensuring their comfort, especially during those sizzling summer months. With the right care regimen, you can help your horse feel cooler and more relaxed, even when the sun is at its peak.

Brush Away the Heat

Daily brushing is more than just a beautifying ritual. By removing loose hair, dirt, and sweat, you’re promoting better air circulation directly to the skin. This not only cools the horse down but also helps prevent skin infections that can arise in damp, sweaty conditions. Using a curry comb followed by a soft brush can be incredibly effective, especially during the molting seasons.

To Clip or Not to Clip?

Now, here’s a hot topic! Clipping can be a godsend for horses with thick coats. By trimming down their hair, you’re essentially helping them shed their winter jackets. However, it’s vital to strike a balance.

While you want to reduce the thickness, leaving a protective layer is essential to shield them from the sun’s harmful UV rays and avoid sunburn. Always consider the specific needs of your horse, their activity level, and the local climate before reaching for those clippers.

Splash of Refreshment: Bathing in Cool Water

Imagine the relief of a cold shower after a long, hot day. For our horses, a bath with cool water can be equally rejuvenating. But there’s a technique to it. Start by hosing the legs. The large veins in a horse’s legs can help cool the blood, which then circulates to the rest of the body.

Gradually work your way up, ensuring the water reaches the skin beneath the coat. We spray our entire horse, including their face and head, and in hot weather. Once done, scrape off excess water to prevent the horse from getting chilled and to speed up the drying process. In hot weather, you can skip scraping off the excess water.

Remember, grooming isn’t just a chore—it’s a bonding activity. It’s an opportunity for us to check in on our horse’s well-being and ensure they’re comfortable, especially in extreme temperatures.

With proper grooming and care, we’re not just keeping them cool; we’re also ensuring they’re healthy, happy, and ready to gallop into another sun-soaked day!

Picture of horses training early in the morning.
Early morning training.

Adjusting Exercise and Workload: Beat the Heat, Not the Horse

In the realm of horse care, adapting to the rhythms of the weather is crucial. When the mercury rises, rethinking our exercise routines and workload can be the difference between a healthy, happy horse and an overexerted one. Here’s how to adjust your approach during those scorching days.

Timing is Everything: Choose the Cooler Moments

Just as we’d rather not run a marathon in the midday heat, our horses prefer their workouts during the cooler parts of the day. We try and have all our horses out before 7 a.m. when the world is still waking up and there’s a fresh chill in the air.

Some people may prefer late evenings when the sun dips and brings relief, which is also ideal. These times not only reduce the risk of heat stress but are often more serene, providing a calmer environment for both horse and rider.

Watch for the Tell-Tale Signs

It’s essential to keep a vigilant eye on your horse while exercising. Recognizing signs of fatigue, such as excessive sweating, heavy breathing, or drooping ears, can prevent pushing them into dangerous territory.

Remember, on particularly hot days, it’s better to err on the side of caution. If your horse seems off, it’s okay to cut the session short or even skip a day.

Warm-ups and Cool-downs: Not Just Bookends to Exercise

In the quest to beat the heat, one might be tempted to skip the warm-up and dive straight into the day’s training. However, warm-ups are vital to get those muscles flexible and the blood flowing, preparing the horse for activity. Similarly, cool-downs are not to be ignored.

A good, gradual cool-down ensures that lactic acid doesn’t build up in the muscles, reducing the risk of stiffness or injury. It also gives your horse a chance to regulate their body temperature and catch their breath.

In essence, hot weather doesn’t mean bidding adieu to exercise. It’s about being smart, listening to our horses, and adjusting our routines. It’s the balance of keeping them active without overexertion.

By adapting to the rhythms of nature and prioritizing our horse’s comfort, we ensure that both horse and rider can thrive, come rain or shine—or, in this case, blazing heat.

Picture of our horse Addie getting a bath.
Cooling our yearling.

Cooling Techniques: Chill Out Strategies for Your Equine Friend

When summer’s heat bears down relentlessly, having a range of cooling techniques up your sleeve can be a game-changer for your horse’s comfort and well-being. Whether you’re prepping for a competition, returning from a trail, or just helping them relax on a blistering day, here’s how you can give your horse that much-needed chill.

Misting Magic

Misting systems can be an oasis in the desert for our horses. By spraying a fine mist of water into the air, they help lower the ambient temperature in the surrounding environment.

As the mist evaporates, it absorbs heat, creating a cool zone around your horse. This can be particularly effective in barns, stables, or even outdoor resting areas. Just make sure your horse is comfortable with the sensation first!

The Towel and Sponge Technique

Sometimes, the simplest methods can be the most effective. Drenching a towel or sponge in cool water and then draping or rubbing it over key cooling points can provide immediate relief. Focus on areas like the neck, chest, and legs.

These areas have larger blood vessels close to the skin’s surface. By cooling them, you’re helping reduce the overall body temperature more effectively. This method is easy, quick, and can be done practically anywhere.

Dive into Cool Water Baths

There’s nothing quite like a refreshing dip. For horses, a cool water bath can be an instant pick-me-up after a sweaty session. It’s more than just splashing water; think of it as a spa session. Start with the legs, allowing the cool water to bring down the temperature of the blood in the large vessels and then gradually cover the rest of the body.

Walk-in Sessions: The Gentle Cool-Down

Post-exercise, after an initial cool-down, consider a walk-in session where you lead your horse through a shallow pool or stream. The water’s cool embrace around their legs can be incredibly soothing, helping to reduce muscle fatigue and provide relief from the heat. It’s like nature’s own therapy session!

Ultimately, cooling techniques are about understanding your horse’s needs and being prepared. Every horse may have a preference or may respond differently to various methods. Being attentive and responsive to their reactions will guide you in choosing the most effective technique. Remember, a cool horse is a happy horse, and these strategies are your toolkit to ensure their comfort on even the hottest of days.

Diet Considerations: Feeding for the Heat

When the temperatures soar, even our appetites and preferences change, don’t they? We lean towards salads, hydrating fruits, and light meals. Similarly, our horses’ nutritional needs and digestion can be affected by extreme heat. Here’s how you can tweak their diet to suit the sunny side up.

Small and Frequent: The New Meal Mantra

Just like how we might prefer several light meals over one heavy one in the heat, horses can benefit from being fed more frequently in smaller amounts. Large meals can generate more metabolic heat as the food breaks down. By splitting meals, we ensure that our horse’s body doesn’t get overloaded and digestion remains smooth.

Light and Easy: Opt for Digestible Feeds

Some feeds require more effort to break down, leading to increased metabolic heat. In the high temperatures of summer, opting for easily digestible feeds can keep this heat to a minimum.

Consider high-quality forages, pelleted feeds, or beet pulp. Not only are they easier on the digestive system, but they also reduce the risk of heat-related digestive issues.

Salt Blocks and Mineral Magic

Imagine sweating buckets and not replenishing them with electrolytes. We’d feel drained and dehydrated quickly, right? The same goes for our equine buddies. With their increased sweating in hot weather, horses lose essential minerals. Enter salt blocks and mineral supplements.

They’re essential to replenish lost salts and maintain hydration. Ensure your horse has constant access to a salt block, and consider adding electrolyte supplements to their diet if they’re working hard in the heat.

In essence, when the sun beats down, it’s not just about adjusting our routines but also reconsidering what goes into our horse’s feed bucket. A thoughtful approach to diet, tailored to the season, ensures our horse remains energized, hydrated, and ready to trot, no matter how high the temperature climbs!

Other Precautions: Covering All Bases in the Heatwave

As we get adept at fine-tuning our horse’s care routine for the sweltering days, it’s vital to remember that there are various aspects to consider. Beyond just cooling and diet tweaks, here are other precautions to keep your horse comfy and safe during those blazing days.

The Fly Fiasco: Minimize the Buzz

Nothing can be more annoying than a swarm of flies buzzing around on a hot day, right? For horses, flies are not just irritating; they can exacerbate stress during hot weather, leading to increased sweating and discomfort.

Implementing fly control methods, like using fly sprays, fly masks, or fly sheets, can help keep these pesky bugs at bay. Maintaining cleanliness around the barn, promptly removing manure, and using fly traps can further reduce fly populations.

Picture of our horse trailer.  We hauled our horse early in the morning.
Unloading early in the morning.

Travel Time: Not High Noon!

If you’ve ever sat in a car that’s been parked under the sun, you’d know just how oven-like it can get. Now, imagine a horse trailer. Avoiding transporting horses during the hottest parts of the day is crucial.

When we haul our horses during the summer heat, we always travel in the early mornings or late evenings. If you have to travel during the day, ensure the trailer is well-ventilated, consider using fans, and make frequent stops to check on your horse and offer water.

Be Vigilant: Watch for Heat Troubles

Regularly checking your horse for signs of heat-related illnesses can be a lifesaver. From heat stress to heat stroke, catching symptoms early can make all the difference. Look out for excessive sweating, rapid breathing, lethargy, or even signs of dehydration like a prolonged skin tent or darkened urine.

Knowledge is power, so being aware of these signs ensures you can act swiftly if needed. As with most things horse-related, it’s the attention to detail that counts. It’s the little things—the buzz of a fly, the timing of a journey, the keen observation of a slight change in behavior—that can make a world of difference in ensuring our equine partners are safe, sound, and happy, even under the blazing sun.

Emergency Situations: Act Fast When the Heat Hits Hard

We’ve all heard the saying, “Prevention is better than cure.” While our primary focus should always be on preventing heat-related problems, it’s equally crucial to be prepared for emergencies. Heatstroke in horses can be life-threatening, but quick and informed action can be a game-changer. Here’s what you need to know:

Heatstroke: What’s Happening?

When a horse’s body can’t regulate its temperature due to excessive heat and humidity, heatstroke can occur. It’s a serious condition where the internal body temperature rises dangerously high.

Symptoms can include profuse sweating followed by a sudden lack of sweat, rapid heartbeat, labored breathing, disorientation, stumbling, or even collapsing.

Dial the Vet: Every Second Counts

The very first step, if you suspect your horse has heatstroke, is to call your veterinarian immediately. Time is of the essence, and while there are measures you can take to help your horse, professional intervention is crucial for their recovery.

First-Aid Measures: Immediate Relief

While you’re waiting for the vet:

  1. Move to Shade: Get your horse out of direct sunlight. Whether it’s a tree, a barn, or any shaded area, it’s vital to reduce further heat exposure.
  2. Cooling Down: Use hoses to run cool (not ice-cold) water over your horse’s body, focusing on the large muscle groups like the neck, shoulders, and hindquarters. This can help lower their body temperature. If a hose isn’t available, wet towels can be an alternative.
  3. Air Flow: If possible, position fans around the horse to promote evaporation and cooling.
  4. Hydration: Offer your horse cool, fresh water. If they’re reluctant to drink, don’t force them.
  5. Monitor: Keep a close eye on your horse’s vital signs, particularly their heart and respiratory rates.

It’s essential, though, not to use ice-cold water directly or ice packs as they can constrict blood vessels and trap heat inside, potentially exacerbating the situation.

In essence, during an emergency, staying calm and acting quickly is paramount. While our immediate actions can aid in recovery, the expertise of a veterinarian is indispensable in these situations. By being prepared and knowledgeable, we can be a beacon of hope for our horses when the heat becomes too much to handle.

Here is a YouTube video with some helpful tips on how to keep horses cool.

Conclusion: From Awareness to Action Keeping Horses Cool

As the summer sun blazes and temperatures soar, it’s a stark reminder of the challenges that come with caring for our equine friends. But as we’ve delved into, from recognizing early signs of distress to ensuring the perfect diet and immediate interventions, proactive measures are our best defense against the heat’s adverse effects.

Being a responsible horse owner goes beyond just daily feedings and rides; it’s about recognizing that our companions rely on us for their comfort and well-being. The knowledge you arm yourself with is not just information—it’s a tool, a safeguard, a promise to your horse that you’re doing everything in your power to ensure their health and happiness.

So, as the days grow hotter and longer, let’s pledge to be vigilant and keep our horses cool, or at least as cool as possible. To keep our ears to the ground, eyes on the lookout, and most importantly, our hearts tuned in to the needs of our beloved equines.

Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. By staying informed and proactive, we ensure that our horses not only survive the extreme heat but thrive in it.

Bil

Thursday 24th of August 2023

Thanks for the kind words.