We all love the feel of the summer sunshine and it makes us and our horses feel so much better after a long, wet and windy winter! However, excessive heat can be very dangerous for our equine companions and if we are not careful, can lead to our horses feeling lethargic, grumpy and dehydrated. In the worst case scenarios if horses are exposed to extreme heat for long periods, heat stroke can develop which can cause serious repercussions, such as colic symptoms, light headedness and disorientation.
So how do we allow our horses to enjoy the summer out on the grass, without exposing them to the potential dangers of excessive heat exposure? Here you will find ten simple tips on how to allow your horses to enjoy the summer sunshine:
1) Use sun cream – As we turn our horses out during the sunshine, it is inevitable that the exposed areas of their sensitive skin will be prone to burning, just like us when we suddenly put on shorts when the weather gets warm! Sun cream should be applied (particularly on grey horses) to any hairless patches, pink-skinned areas (such as the muzzle), tips of ears and white leg markings. Fly rugs and masks go a long way to prevent the sun’s rays coming into contact with our horses’ other sensitive areas (and preserve their coat colour in the bleaching summer sun).
2) Help the Hairies – Hairy ponies still want to enjoy the sunshine too, but ponies suffering from Cushing’s can still have thick hairy coats in the summer months. Help these guys out by clipping them regularly through the summer, but make sure that you use fly sheets to give them protection from the sun as the under lying skin will be sensitive after being protected by the thick coats.
3) Think About Your Riding Routine – Plan your riding times around the peak temperatures during the day, avoid riding over midday and try and keep riding to early mornings or evenings when the temperature drops and the sun is less intense.
4) Think About the Type of Exercise – If you are riding in the early morning or evening, hopefully the temperatures will be at a relatively sensible level to allow you to work as normal. If the temperatures are soaring though, think about the speed of work, don’t allow your horse to work intensely in the heat and try to reduce sweating, as your horse will be battling to stay hydrated during the heat any way. If you need to work at maximal intensity, try splitting the session into two and riding for short bursts in the morning and evening, rather than one long session in the middle of the day.
5) Replace Lost Electrolytes – When your horse sweats they will lose essential electrolytes from their body. Electrolytes ensure that the perfect balance of fluids are maintained within the horse’s cells, which ensure optimal muscle performance. Therefore when the horse sweats some of these electrolytes have been lost, resulting in reduced performance and could lead to tying up. These lost electrolytes should be replaced following exercise; these can be given through supplements in feed or in an electrolyte drink. Make sure that you provide fresh water at all times when feeding electrolytes, and always feed the manufacturer’s recommendations as too many can be damaging.
6) Turn Out in the Summer – We all want to have our horses out being horses in the summer months, but in order to avoid the intense heat in the day, think about turning your horse’s turn out routine around; turnout over night or in the early mornings and evenings, and stable during the day to keep the horse as cool as possible.
7) Stabling in the Day – If you chose to stable your horse during the daytime in the summer heat, ensure that your stable is adequately ventilated, as a hot stable can be just if not more so damaging than being out in the field in the middle of the day. Try using fans to circulate the air (ensuring cables are out of reach) or stable your horses in a sheltered area of the yard where the stables are cooler.
8) Turning out in the Day – If you chose to turn your horse out over the heat of the day, make sure that there is lots of shelter available in the paddock to provide shade for your horse. This can be provided by field shelters, trees or hedges.
9) Water, Water, Water – Always provide fresh water, whether in the field or the stable. An automatic trough in the field will ensure that the water is always cool and appetising to the horse, whereas a bucket of water will become stagnant and will deter the horse from drinking, potentially resulting in dehydration.
10) Give Your Horse a Shower – Cold showers will immediately reduce the body temperature and are appreciated by most horses in the heat. However, make sure you use a sweat scraper to remove as much of the excess water as possible, as if it’s left next to the skin it will proceed to heat up and undo the work of the shower.
So hopefully armed with these hints and tips, you and your horses will enjoy the summer together.