Hot Weather Calls for Cool Care of Your Horse
July 28, 2011
In the good old summertime ….. it's just plain old hot!
For equestrian riding enthusiasts this may necessitate paying extra
attention to your horse's physical needs and changing your riding
"Heat related illness such as heat stress can quickly become
heat exhaustion if preventive measures are not taken," notes Dr.
Glennon Mays, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M
College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
Hot humid weather combined with over exertion and fluid loss can
lead to heat stress. Signs of heat stress include
dehydration, elevated body temperature, excessive sweating or no
sweating, accelerated heart and respiratory rates, and
sluggishness, says Mays.
"To check for dehydration, use your forefinger and thumb to
pinch and pull the skin on the side of your horse's neck; it should
snap back in place when released. If the skin is slow to form
to the neck again your horse is dehydrated," explains Mays.
A horse's normal body temperature range is 99 to 101 degrees F;
body temperature above 103 F is cause for concern since 104 F and
greater generally require medical attention. Additionally,
you should be aware of your horse's pulse and respiration
rates. Normal equine resting pulse rate is 32-44 beats per
minute and respiration rate is usually 8-16 breaths per minute,
In addition to checking vital signs, you can help your horse
avoid heat stress this summer by providing clean fresh water, good
ventilation and shade. Also, ride in the early morning or
late evening when outdoor temperatures are cooler, suggests
"Adequate water intake is critical. An average size horse
needs about 10 gallons of fresh water per day. In the summertime, a
physically active adult horse may consume more than 20 gallons of
water daily," notes Mays. "Water loss from sweating also means that
electrolytes (sodium, potassium, and calcium) are lost and these
need to be replaced after exercising. Free access to minerals
and salt will help your horse maintain its electrolyte
balance. Your veterinarian can advise you with instructions
on ways to mix electrolytes into your horse's water or feed."
Your horse's stall should be well ventilated with good air
circulation. Regular fans help circulate air inside the
building. Be sure that fans and electrical cords are out of
your horse's reach and safely distanced from water sources,
cautions Mays. For pastured horses, provide shade via trees
or loafing sheds.
During and after physical activity, your horse moves warm
interior blood through veins and into capillaries at the skin's
surface, explains Mays. When the skin of your horse is cooled
this surface blood is cooled also and thus the body temperature of
your horse decreases. A cool water bath will help your
overheated horse dissipate excess heat faster. The water
conducts the heat from the surface of the horse and water
evaporation from the skin cools your horse's body. Standing
the horse in cool water also helps to dissipate heat through the
Heat related illness can be a very serious condition for your
horse and should not be taken casually, cautions Mays. A
well-informed horse owner is capable of preventing overheating from
occurring when he/she knows the signs of heat stress and what care
In the good old summertime continue to ride your horse, but be
aware of the signs of heat stress. Tailor you riding time to
humidity and temperature conditions. Provide ample fresh
clean water and additional sources of electrolytes. Set up
fans to help circulate air around your horse. Also, remember
the rider exposes him/herself to potential heat-related
issues. Take appropriate precautions for yourself as
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