Horses have evolved to cope with cold weather much better than they are equipped to cope with the heat. Even at rest, extreme summer conditions can cause horses to become overheated and uncomfortable and this could develop into heat stroke. This is a very serious condition requiring Veterinary intervention.
In the wild, horses can protect themselves from the elements by moving to a place that is away from the worst weather conditions. Mountains, gullies and dense vegetation make very good shelter and windbreaks, and the herd environment offers adequate protection to keep wild horses comfortable.
In paddocks and yards, the domesticated horse may not have the option of finding natural shelter, so we must ensure that the horse does not become dehydrated, compromised or ill in high 30 – 40 degree days.
Here are some helpful hints and the signs you must look for that may warn that the horse is not coping and needs your help.
1. Firstly, make sure that you take care of yourself, wear appropriate clothes, keep well hydrated and stay as cool as possible, you will not be able to look after your horse if you succumb to heat induced fatigue or heat stroke. Change out of hot riding clothes as soon as you’re riding is done, but be sure to always wear appropriate and safe footwear when you are handling your horse.
2. Your horse must have plenty of fresh clean water. Ensure that the water has not been contaminated with bird droppings or an animal/bird falling in and contaminating the supply. If possible, keep the water cool. If the trough is tall and you have ponies or foals, ensure that they can reach the water when the level goes down.
3. Be sure that you keep your horse inside or move your horse to a paddock with shade and protection from the hot afternoon sun as direct radiant heat adds many degrees to the stated temperatures quoted by the Weather Bureau.
4. Sponge or hose your horse away from the beating sun to provide some relief. It will really help to hose the neck, belly and legs. Do not persist with hosing the horse’s head if it is not readily accepted, as keeping the horse calm and at ease is important.
5. If the horse must be ridden or trained on an excessively hot day, ensure that you start early in the morning and attend to a thorough cooling down procedure.
6. Cool wraps or ice packs applied to the legs provide an excellent and accelerated cooling process. Ensure that the horse’s legs are protected from the direct application of ice and do not leave ice wraps for longer than recommended, as too much of a good thing can also be harmful
7. When the horse has finished work and cooled down, offer small sips of cool water to help them recover and curb thirst. An additive such as molasses may entice the horse to drink and replacing lost fluids is nature’s way of cooling down.
8. Horses will sweat more readily in hot weather and lose important body salts that are important to recovery. It is prudent to add electrolytes to water (or other administration methods may be preferable such as syringe or powder added to feed). This is particularly important for horses in training for coming competitions when the maintenance of peak condition and fitness is important.
9. Sick horses could be compromised in their ability to stay cool and it may be necessary to confine the horse in a stable or loose box and sponge regularly and set up an electric fan (even better, a misting fan) to blow cooling air over the horse. This can be of great benefit in the really hot part of the day. Your Vet will advise if prescribed medications could raise the horse’s temperature or are likely to have an affect on your horse’s natural cooling ability.
10. Horses with white noses are prone to sunburn and it is important to provide protection by way of a layer of zinc cream, SPF 50 or other special sunburn preventative, on a daily basis. Saddleworld stores have many protection options that are very effective. If the horse gets a sunburned nose or nostrils, the skin will blister and form painful scabs. Untreated and unprotected it can develop into an ongoing condition that is very difficult to manage. A nose protection guard can be fitted to the halter and are ideal for horses turned out in a paddock.
11. Horses are troubled by flies and insects during hot weather and a fly veil and very light fly sheet can help to minimise the discomfort of biting or flying inspects which can add to the distress of hot weather. Saddleworld have a range of summer rugs to protect your horse and also allow for airflow.(Right: Eurohunter fly veil)
12. For horses particularly bothered by flies, insect repellents can provide extra and most welcome relief, but these need to be applied daily.