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Cooling a Hot Horse: Why it’s essential, plus 8 helpful tips

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Cooling horses after exercise is just as essential as warming them up ahead of time. Failure to do so jeopardizes the animal’s health and can result in issues like heat stroke, dehydration, or tying up.

Most equine owners use methods learned from watching others or tips passed along from one horse owner to another. However, there is plenty of scientific evidence about the safest and most effective ways to cool down a hot horse which can take the guesswork out of this important process.

Eight tips for cooling down a hot horse:

  1. Walk the horse to let it cool down slowly
  2. Continuous showering with water works best
  3. Scraping makes no difference
  4. Sponge if no tap is available
  5. Move the horse into the shade
  6. Let the horse drink freely
  7. Add fans
  8. Avoid sheets or coolers

When it comes to horse riding and equine care, an ounce of prevention will always be worth a pound of cure. Let’s explore the most effective and safest way to ensure your horse cools down and recovers quickly after exercise or competition.

Picture of a walker being used for cooling a hot horse after training.

Tips For Cooling A Hot Horse

Horse owners, riders, and trainers like to do things the way they know. Most swear by their own tried and tested methods of doing things, and everything from feed mixes, hoof care, bits, training regimes, and schedules can differ widely and be hot topics.

There is a lot of contradictory information about the best ways to cool a hot horse. However, a common denominator is that everyone wants to do the best thing for their horses, and cooling them down quickly and safely after a workout is essential to avoid health problems further down the line.

Summertime in the south can be brutal, especially for horses. With the humidity and heat index soaring, it’s important to take some extra precautions to keep your horse cool, especially if they’re working hard or competing. Here are a few tips to help keep your horse comfortable:

1. Walk The Horse After Competition Or Exercise

If you are riding the horse, you can stay on, or if you are needed somewhere else urgently, ask a friend, family member, or groom to walk the horse calmly for at least 15 minutes.

After our horses come off the track, we pay attention to how they breathe, sweat, and walk. If they are breathing hard, we walk them until their heart rate lowers and respiration returns to normal.

Do not under any circumstances stash a hot horse in a stall or into a horse trailer the moment it comes out of the ring or straight from the finish line of an event.

2. Let The Horse Drink

We make sure to give our horses water throughout the walk, and we may add some electrolytes to their water if they are sweating excessively. When a horse is sweating from exertion, it is losing moisture through sweat.

The lost fluid needs to be replaced to keep its internal cooling mechanism running efficiently. No one can force a horse to drink if it doesn’t want to, but water should be available so the horse doesn’t dehydrate.

Picture of a trainer cooling a hot horse in the wash rack.

3. Showering Your Hot Horse to Cool it.

After we cool our horses by walking and giving them water to drink, we bring them to the wash rack. This is sometimes where the debate sometimes becomes heated, not only for the horses but amongst owners. Research has shown that a quick splash and dash wetting approach is ineffective for cooling hot horses after exercise.

The heat rising from a horse’s skin needs to dissipate to lower its core temperature. Therefore, continuously running cool water over your horse for a few minutes is essential because the water will carry heat away. Just adding one coat of water provides a damp layer of warmth between the horse’s skin and the air.

Tap water works perfectly, and no supercooled, icy reservoir water is needed. Start by hosing the horse’s feet and gradually move upwards. Continue hosing to include the animal’s belly and move upward to include its neck. After we wash our horses, we typically put them on the walker for 20 to 30 minutes.

Below is a YouTube video that addresses cooling competition horses.

3. Scraping Makes No Difference

It turns out that laboriously using a scraper to remove excess water from your equine’s coat makes no difference to how quickly the animal cools down after exercise.

Researchers have found that the same result can be obtained in humid conditions by simply walking the horse or running a fan. For water to be effective as a cooling method, it needs to be applied as a continuous shower to carry heat away from the horse’s skin.

Scrapers are fine to remove warm water, but more water must be continuously applied until the horse is cool.

5. Sponging Can Help

You can use a bucket and sponge if you have no hose available after an event or at a show. But cool water needs to be reapplied to each section repeatedly to mimic a shower effect. Just wetting a horse is not useful.

6. Move The Horse To A Shaded Area

It’s important to keep your horse out of the sun when trying to cool them down, especially after working hard or competing. One way to do this is to move them to a shaded area. This will help to lower their body temperature and prevent them from overheating.

Bring along a canopy if you’re going to show where you know there is no shade. Standing in the sun is not helpful to either a human or a horse when trying to cool down. If you’re trail riding, look for a shady area to take a break and let your horse cool down.

7. Add Fans

Use a fan to cool your horse, but only do this if you can do so safely. Misting fans were used successfully at the summer Olympics to cool competition horses. And because we live in South Louisiana, stall fans are a must-have. We have fans for each stall in our barn and a large aisle fan.

8. Avoid Sweat Sheets Until The Horse Has Cooled Down Completely

Only use sweat sheets if the weather is cold – Loving horse owners love to swaddle their beloved equines in blankets at the first sign of cold weather.

Cooling after exercise is about the effective evaporation of sweat and cooling of the skin. Adding a layer of anything between the horse’s skin and the air will slow the process. Let the horse cool down completely before adding any coverings. 

Picture of a two year old thoroughbred horse.

What Are The Benefits Of Cooling A Horse Down After Riding?

While exercising, heat is produced inside a horse’s body as a by-product of the energy being expended. To stop a horse instantly, one slows the blood flow that was powering the muscles – the superheated muscles need that circulation to function properly.

The result can be a sort of supernova effect inside the animal’s muscles. Heat continues to build up with no method of being carried to the skin and released as sweat or through respiration.

Typing up is the most common problem, which in all cases is a chronic condition that will require veterinary intervention. It could also lead to colic or heat stroke, which is also extremely serious.

There are multiple reasons why cooling a horse down after riding is an essential part of all equestrian sports. Exercising a horse and abruptly stopping the exercise can have long-lasting health implications.

  • It reduces the risk of unnecessary injury or even death associated with tying up.
  • Cooling a horse down correctly after exercising reduces the risk of heat stroke.
  • For the rider or horse owner, cooling a horse down after exercise is an easy way to avoid potentially expensive veterinarian callouts.

What Should You Avoid Doing When Cooling A Horse Down?

Like everything related to horse care, myths and legends abound, and competitive riders all have their own theories about what to and NOT to do while cooling horses down. Some can hardly wait to dismount from a full gallop before throwing on a sweat rug, while others insist that drinking water should be withheld to avoid instant death from colic.

The cooling down process should be the reverse of the warmup procedure. The horse should revert to the same temperature, respiration pattern, and heart rate as before the exercise.

To clear things up, here are three things riders should NOT do when cooling their horse down:

  • Withhold water. This is paramount. It is far more likely that your hot horse will become dangerously dehydrated from not drinking than getting colic from having access to clean water.
  • Put your horse back in its stable to let it cool off by standing inside. Unlike cars, horses can’t be switched off instantly, and a patient cooling down process needs to be part of the routine each time a horse is exercised.
  • Ignore any symptoms. Call a veterinarian immediately if a horse is not cooling down or showing signs like continued rapid respiration, reluctance to move, colic, or excessive sweating after exercise. Tying up is always an emergency.
Picture of a horse laying down in a stall.

Special Considerations When Cooling Young, Old, Or Pregnant Horses

The best advice for anyone competing with a horse with special requirements is to know your horse and be in tune with them. The moment the animal feels different looks different, behaves differently, or shows any discomfort, the exercise and cooling routines must be reevaluated and modified accordingly.

Some considerations when cooling young horses:

  • Get them used to being cooled down properly after exercising from the get-go. Don’t wait until they are at a competition to start hosing their legs.
  • Young horses have enough to think about and process without scary hoses and unfamiliar routines while away. Excitement or anxiety can elevate your young horse’s heart rate, prolonging the cooling-down process. Give yourself plenty of time after events to let the youngster settle.

Cooling down older horses:

  • Older horses must be cooled down after exercise or competition using the same methods as younger horses.
  • Older horses may struggle more to stay warm if they get too cold. As horses age, they tend to lose muscle and fat. This is particularly evident in cooler weather when a wet horse can become icy cold as the sweat or water against their skin cools. 

Take particular care to ensure that older animals don’t get cold from being damp. If necessary, once their core temperature is back to normal, they may need a light sheet or blanket, especially if they are clipped or if the weather is cold.

Special considerations when cooling pregnant horses:

  • Work closely with your veterinarian to devise a suitable and safe exercise schedule for your pregnant mare. This is not a time to be guessing, and an overheated pregnant mare could be dangerous for her and the foal’s health.
  • Monitor the mare’s temperature closely during exercise to avoid overexertion, stress, or overheating.

What Is Tying Up In Horses?

Tying up in horses is a painful muscle condition that is sometimes described as similar to muscle cramps in humans. The difference is that in horses, periods of tying up can lead to muscle damage and which can affect vital organs.

The cause of tying up is not fully understood, but it is thought to be related to exercise and cooling horses down too rapidly after work. Exercise routines should be carefully devised to suit the animal’s fitness level to avoid overexertion.

One of the best ways to prevent tying up in horses is to take the time to cool a horse properly after exercise or competition before returning it to its stable or turning it out. While tying up can be painful for horses, it is not usually a serious condition and can be treated with rest and massage.

Conclusion

Cooling horses down after exercise or competition is essential to prevent issues like tying up or heat stroke. The most effective way to lower a horse’s temperature is to cool it by hosing its legs and neck with tap water until its temperature has returned to normal.

FAQs

How long does it take a horse to cool down?

Generally, a horse cools down in about 10-15 minutes after exercising. However, it could take much longer depending on how hard the horse worked, its fitness level, the outside temperature, and the humidity level.

How do you cool a horse down fast?

There are a few things you can do to cool a hot horse down fast:
Run cold water over your horse using a hose. Rub ice all over the horse’s body.
Fan the horse’s body with a sheet or towel. Give your horse plenty of water to drink.

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