Heat waves are becoming more frequent – that’s a scientific fact. Horses are particularly susceptible to heat stress (they heat up 10 times faster than we do) so we owe it to them to give them that extra care in extreme heat not only for their comfort, but for their health.
Like most living creatures horses have a natural way of coping with hot weather. They sweat up to 20 litres an hour in cool conditions and as much as 30 litres in hot, humid weather. The sweat evaporates cooling them down, but there are situations when this is not enough and the body temperature increases drastically causing heat stress, with dire consequences.
A normal body temperature for a horse is around 37 degrees C … if this increases to around 41 degrees the muscles literally begin to cook (denature) and can lead to hypotension, colic and kidney failure.
It’s a bit ironic that heat waves tend to happen during the season when horses are expected to perform at their best … in shows, eventing, endurance, racing and all the other equestrian events we so enjoy during the summer season.
A horse that is worked too hard on a hot day can become seriously overheated. Even just hanging out in the field on a hot day can make a horse overheat if there is no shade available, especially if he’s obese or has a shaggy, thick coat.
Excessive sweating itself can cause dehydration, depleting minerals and salts in the system which, if not replaced, could cause a metabolic crisis. (See our blog about electrolytes.)
So how can you keep your horse healthy and happy in the heat?
The most important element you need is water. Firstly to be used in the most obvious way which would be the availability of plenty of clean, fresh water available to drink. On extremely hot days a horse should drink about 20 gallons of water a day, which will certainly keep horse owners busy, especially if you have a herd to care for.
If you have a horse that is not a keen drinker, you can make up for it by adding water to feed supplements rather than feeding it dry, or use a product such as the amazing Horse Quencher to encourage him to drink.
Just like humans, horses also appreciate being cooled down with water on a hot day. If he enjoys it hose him down … let him loose to wallow in cool rivers and streams. An overheated horse can be cooled by being wet down and scraped off repeatedly.
OTHER HEAT HAZARDS
Don’t forget heat brings out flies and other insects, which come with their own dangers to horses. If your horse is susceptible to bites and skin conditions, make sure you keep him in during the times of the day (especially late evening) when insects are most active. Use insect repellentsand fly rugs to keep him comfortable.
Poo pick frequently, keep stables clean and locate your stable waste as far away from the horses as possible.
Heat and high humidity also increase the activity of bacteria and viruses, and therefore increase the risk of infectious diseases in horses. Be vigilant for any sign of infection and call the vet if you are at all concerned.
HORSE HEAT DEFENCE
The basic tasks that face horse owners in the heat are to keep him cool, hydrated and clean. Apart from the factors already mentioned, you can do the following:
· Provide an area where your horse can get out of the direct sun … a field shelter, shade trees.
· Keep exercise to a minimum and don’t work him too hard on extremely hot, humid days – keep tack to a minimum and enjoy some light riding.
· Keep stables well ventilated … a fan is a great way not just to keep things cool, cut also to blow off insects.
· Keep wounds clean, dry and protected.
· Be vigilant and aware of how your horse is handling heat, and if you have any concerns consult your vet. Check his rectal temperature, watch for profuse sweating, rapid breathing and heart rate, droopy ears and general tiredness, lethargy and dehydration (use the pinch test).
· If an activity makes your horse overheated guard against cooling him down too quickly – this could lead to muscle cramping.
Enjoy your horse in the summer, but when conditions become extreme go that extra mile to help him cope! Totally Tack is here to help … we’ve got all the products and advice you need to enjoy a cool summer, available online!