Top 10 tips on keeping horses cool in the summer
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.
Sometimes, if horses are exposed to extreme heat for long periods, heatstroke can develop which can cause them to have 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 the top 10 tips on how to allow your horses to enjoy the summer sunshine:
Use sun cream
As we turn our horses out during the sunshine, the exposed areas of their sensitive skin will inevitably 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 from reaching our horses’ other sensitive areas (and preserve their coat colour in the bleaching summer sun).
Clip thick hairy coats
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 underlying skin will be sensitive after being protected by the thick coats.
Avoid riding at the hottest times of day
Plan your riding times around the peak temperatures during the day, avoid riding over midday and try and keep riding to the early mornings or later on in the evenings when the temperature drops and the sun is less intense.
Tailor the exercise to the conditions
If you are riding in the early morning or evening as hopefully the temperatures will be a little cooler to allow you to work as normal. If the temperatures are soaring though, think about the speed of work and don’t allow your horse to work intensely in the heat to try to reduce sweating, as your horse will be battling to stay hydrated during the heat anyway.
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.
Replace lost electrolytes
When your horse sweats they will lose essential electrolytes from their body. Electrolytes ensure that the perfect balance of fluids is maintained within the horse’s cells, which ensure optimal muscle performance.
Therefore, when the horse sweats some of these electrolytes are lost, resulting in reduced performance and could lead to tying up (this is a broad term that is used to describe a wide variety of muscle disorders that can develop). These lost electrolytes should be replaced following exercise and can be given through supplements in feed or 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.
Turn out in the summer
We all want to have our horses out doing what they do best in the summer months, but in order to avoid the intense heat in the day, think about turning your horse’s turnout (being outdoors) routine around. Turnout overnight or in the early mornings and evenings, and stable during the day to keep the horse as cool as possible.
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.
Stabling in the day
If you chose to stable your horse during the day in the summer heat, it might be a good idea to ensure that your stable is adequately ventilated as a hot stable can be just as 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.
Travelling with your horse
If you’re planning on competing or travelling with your horse, you might want to consider leaving early in the morning to avoid the heat. Always check the route beforehand and as you drive to make sure there are no delays on the way.
Make sure the windows on the horsebox are open to allow air to flow through and help keep your horse cool.
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 your horse, whereas a bucket of water will become stagnant and will deter the horse from drinking, potentially resulting in dehydration.
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.
Hopefully, as you’ll be armed with these hints and tips, you and your horses will be able to enjoy the summer comfortably together.
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