We all feel we will recognize the signs of heat stress in our horses. As horse people, we pay a lot of attention to the “good common sense” things we can do to help alleviate problems. However, there are some other do’s and dont’s to help our horses thru these hot and humid times.
These are the things that most people know and pay strict attention to:
- Water, Water & more Water: Provide lots of clean, fresh water so the horse has constant access. Try and keep the trough in a shady spot, if possible, as cool water is much more appealing to your horse.
- Protection from the Sun: All horse need access to shade to avoid the hottest part of the day while at turn out.
- Ventilation at all Times: At turn out there is typically adequate air flow but your horse can quickly overheat in a stall. Always keep a large fan on and blowing onto your horse to help sweat evaporate.
- Salt and Electrolytes: A sweating horse looses water but also body salts. Providing powdered electrolytes in their grain ration is a great way to help replenish his body’s needs. Adding a salt block in the stall is extra insurance that they can take in all they like and need.
- Time your Ride: If it’s going to be a really hot day, ride in the early morning or very late afternoon. You will both have more fun!
- Slow the Work Down: Lighten the work load for your horse but spreading it out over a couple short sessions. You will both appreciate the break. Also remove the tack ASAP so the cooling process can begin.
- Cool Shower after Work: A great way to help cool your horse but remember to always remove excess water with a sweat scrapper as a dripping wet horse can feel like he is wearing a hot, wet blanket very quickly. NOTE: To be sure your horse is really cool, check the temperature of the water as you remove it with the scrapper. If the water is still warm, repeat the shower and sweat scrapping process until the water coming off your horses body is cool.
What else can we do?
DO…Know your Horse! Knowing your horses vital statistics at rest and right after work is critical. The normal resting vital signs are 8-16 breaths per minute, 32-44 heart beats per minute and a rectal temperature of 99.0-100.8 Working vitals can vary depending on breed and type of work. Know both!
DO…Know the Signs of Heat-Related Illness: University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine at New Bolton Center says signs can include;
- depression and/or lethargy
- an elevated heart rate that does not return to normal in a reasonable time frame
- excessive sweating or lack of sweating
- a temperature that stays above 103 degrees F
- signs of dehydration including dry mucous membranes, poor capillary refill and poor skin turgor (pulled skin snapping back to normal)
Do…Know what to do: If your horse is showing signs of heat stress,over-heating or heatstroke we must act quickly.
- call your veterinarian IMMEDIATELY
- get your horse in the shade or ventilated stall
- begin a cold shower is your wash stall is in the shade. If not possible, put your horse in a well ventilated stall and bathe your horse with an alcohol bath to bring down his temperature. (One pint of denatured alcohol to one gallon cold water). Remove the water/alcohol mixture with a sweat scapper and repeat as needed to bring down the temperature
- monitor his vital statistics every 15-30 minutes to give your veterinarian as much information as you can.
DO…Know your Math: Dr. Buff of Mississippi State University, an Extension Horse Specialist has useful information and a great formula. Here is the math you need to know:
“The cooling mechanisms of horses are very effective under normal conditions. This is determined by evaluating the ambient temperature and the relative humidity. When the sum of these two factors is less than 130, horses can easily cool themselves. An example of this is when the ambient temperature is 80°F and the relative humidity is 50%, thus the factor would be 130. The ability of horses to effectively maintain proper body temperature decreases when this factor is between 130 and 150. When the factor is above 150 the ability of horses to cool themselves significantly decreases. Once this factor is above 180, horse owners should use caution when exercising horses. When horses are stressed under these conditions the outcome can be fatal.”
DON’T…ignore your gut instincts! If you feel, for any reason, that something is not right, consult your veterinarian immediately!
So, what are we missing? Below are a few thoughts from our local veterinarian, Dr. Peter O’Halloran of Monocacy Equine Veterinary Service:
“What we may not always think about are the varying conditions or demands which affect the water requirements for horses. During the winter months, with no access to the moisture of summer grasses, horses increasingly rely on the water we provide in their buckets or water troughs. During the summer, horses will consume a significant amount of their daily water requirement from fresh pasture grasses. However, excessive heat, humidity, and exercise will increase their water requirement.
We frequently used “alcohol baths” to cool down racehorses in Florida. Liberal amounts of cold water, with additional alcohol (possibly1or2pints) over the entire body; especially the neck, back, and between the rear legs. If you continuously use a scrapper, you will remove the excess heat from the body with the water and alcohol. Removing the excess water with a sweat scrapper will greatly increase the effect of lowering the body temperature of an overheated horse. And if a horse is severely heat stressed it is important to lower their body temperature quickly.”
Dr. O’Halloran adds, “Horses have very efficient thermoregulatory mechanisms. If you are providing adequate food, shelter, and water, most horses in good health can be safely ridden during the summer. However, some horses do not sweat appropriately (anhidrosis) in very hot humid weather. These horses would be at increased risk for heat stress and should not be overly exercised during the hot summer. ”
So…here is to helping our horses stay cool and as comfortable as possible thru the hot and humid months. Remember to provide all the water, shade, electrolytes and quality health care they need. Never ignore heat stress related symptoms and know your horse in every way possible. They will always tell us if something is not right, if we are listening.