Horse care in summer

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The warmer weather can mean lots of opportunity for you and your horse to enjoy summer. However, as with other animals, horses are susceptible to dehydration and can suffer from heat exhaustion and heatstroke, especially as they're usually outside in the sun.

There are lots of ways you can help keep your horse happy and healthy all year round, from providing plenty of water and shade to riding earlier or later in the day. If you suspect your horse may be suffering in the heat, we also have advice on immediate action to take.

How can I keep my horse cool in hot weather?

Firstly, how hot is hot? Research on horses working in the heat regards 28-30 degrees centigrade and above as 'hot', however, humidity should also be considered. High humidity reduces the effectiveness of evaporative cooling through sweating. Therefore, we would always advise that you monitor temperatures and humidity throughout the summer months.

Provide enough water

Horses rely heavily on sweating for cooling and can produce sweat three times as fast as humans. As a result, horses are at high risk of dehydration if they don't have continuous access to water to replace the large amounts lost as sweat.

Considering this, it's not surprising horses drink significantly more during hot weather. Providing plenty of water all year round is therefore really important, especially in warmer conditions. Horses typically need to drink up to 55 litres of water a day and even more in hot weather!

A few buckets which quickly become drained or get knocked over is not enough for these thirsty animals! Horse owners should ensure that they always provide continuous access to clean fresh water. Owners should regularly check that buckets don't become empty or frequently check that automatic watering systems and troughs are clean and functioning. Additionally, providing a salt lick will help your horse replace the salts lost during sweating.

Shade

Constant access to shade is extremely important, whether achieved through natural shade provided by trees or via man-made shelters. Shade is particularly important for elderly horses and foals.

Prevent Sunburn

Horses with pink areas of skin, especially on the face, can be prone to sunburn. Using a good child-safe factor 50 sunblock, applied once daily to these areas will help to reduce the risk of sunburn.

Ride and travel during cooler times of the day

In hot weather, you can reduce the risk of your horse becoming ill as a result of the heat by riding in the early morning or the evening, avoiding the hottest part of the day. You'll also make the most of the long summer days by riding during these times.

Of course, don't forget your hi-viz, fluorescent and reflective clothing! If your horse needs to travel, then leaving very early or very late in the day helps your horse avoid the heat (and also the traffic!). The ventilation is much better for your horse when your vehicle is moving, as opposed to being stuck stationery in traffic so travelling at peak times in summer should be avoided to keep your horse healthy and happy.

Signs that your horse may be suffering in the heat

  • lethargy
  • fast shallow breathing (panting)
  • elevated heart rate (normal for adult horses is 28-44 beats per minute)
  • decreased appetite
  • decreased drinking
  • decreased urination and dark urine
  • muscle spasms
  • poor ridden performance

How to check your horse for signs of dehydration 

If your horse will let you, lift the upper lip of the horse and look at the gums above the teeth. The gums should be a healthy pink colour, shiny, moist and slippery. If they're pale, dry or tacky this can be a tell-tale sign of dehydration. A quick and easy test can be performed by applying firm pressure to the horse's gums with a thumb and seeing how long it takes for the pink colour to return after the thumb is removed. This should normally take 1-2 seconds; if it takes longer than this your horse may be suffering from dehydration.

What to do if your horse is suffering from heat exhaustion or heatstroke

If your horse shows any of these signs call your vet for advice immediately. Heat exhaustion and heatstroke can lead to:

  • unsteadiness on the feet
  • collapse
  • kidney, liver and muscle damage
  • laminitis
  • fatality

Emergency first aid for horses suffering from heat exhaustion and heatstroke includes moving them to a shaded, cool area, and pouring large amounts of water over the body (if a hose is available you should use that). It may take 15 minutes of such action before any effect is visible.

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