Unlike smaller mammals, such as dogs or even humans, horses have a huge body mass in relation to the surface area of their skin. Because of this, their bodies take a long time to warm up and cool down.
Horses sweat profusely to cool down their bodies. So, when it is hot, horses need to be able to drink fresh water all the time to keep their fluids up. You may also protect your horse from the negative effects of heat by providing a cool, shaded area to rest.
You should ensure your horse is fit and healthy, so it doesn’t overheat or get sick from high temperatures and sun exposure on hot days.
Keep reading to find out how to handle your horse in the heat!
Table of Contents
What Are the Signs of a Horse Overheating?
Signs and Symptoms that your horse is overheating:
- a rapid rise in temperature
- rapid breathing and heart rate
- increased sweating
- spasms of the muscles
- decrease in drinking and loss of appetite
- having less frequent urination and pee that appears darker
Call your vet immediately if your horse exhibits any of these symptoms.
First Aid for Horses Suffering From Heat Exhaustion or Heatstroke
Below you will find a few quick ways to cool your horse’s body temperature down when needed (rectal temperatures above 103°F/39°C):
- Immediately take your horse to a cool, shaded area
- Wet the head and body of the horse with cool water
- While cooling your horse with water, concentrate on places where blood vessels are more visible: the head, neck, back, and rib area
- Try to get the horse to drink
About 15 minutes after receiving first aid, the horse should show signs of getting better.
How to Keep Horses Cool in Summer
1. Provide Proper Shelter for Your Horse
Proper shelter is especially important for pregnant mares, foals, and sick or elderly animals.
Stables with poor ventilation can quickly become too hot and stuffy. During the warmer months, the stable must be ventilated to circulate cool air.
When the temperature outside rises, bring your horse inside the stables to keep them out of the heat. As long as your stable has good airflow and is noticeably cooler than outside, your horse should be comfortable.
Proper stable ventilation has two factors:
- air exchange, in which stale and warm air is removed and replaced with fresh air
- airflow, in which the fresh air is distributed throughout the stable
Enough windows, doors, vents, and other openings in and around the stable allow fresh air to enter and achieve cooler temperatures in the summer.
It is worthwhile installing ceiling fans in your stable as well. Fans will force heated air up to the ceiling, where it will make way for new, fresh air.
All domestic horses, when kept outside, must have constant, all-day access to shady areas.
A suitable shade structure must be placed on flat, solid ground. The best protection from the sun and other weather factors is a wide roof and one or two walls. The open side should ideally be facing the south.
When creating a natural shelter, it’s ideal to use a combination of low and tall plants.
2. Keep Your Horse Hydrated
Horses will drink enough water to keep themselves hydrated on hot days if they have access to a constant water supply.
If a horse actively sweats, its body temperature will rise due to water loss through sweat.
So, to prevent your horse from dehydrating, keep track of how much water it drinks.
Provide Your Horse With Access to Fresh Water
Never limit your horse’s access to fresh water. Water should be fresh and clean for your horse. Change the water frequently and never let it become smelly or dirty.
Encourage the Horse to Drink Water
It’s not uncommon for horses to be picky about the quality of their drinking water. Bring some water your horse is used to drinking or make the water tastier by adding fruit juice or sugar beets.
Include Salt in Your Horse’s Diet
You can encourage your horse to drink more by increasing his salt intake.
The sodium chloride should come from a salt block, or a tablespoon of salt added to their food daily.
Be careful, as oversalting your horse’s diet might lead to increased fluid loss due to the diuretic effect of the salt.
Make Sure Your Horse Gets Enough Minerals
Sweating causes a loss of electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, and chloride. These electrolytes are essential for the body to retain water, so in addition to pure water, they must be provided to the horse to ensure it stays hydrated.
Haylage, as opposed to hay, is harvested at an earlier growth stage and allowed to wilt rather than entirely dry out. If haylage is included in a horse’s diet, it may help the animal stay hydrated.
Another tip for increasing your horse’s water consumption through diet is to sprinkle hay or haylage with water.
3. Horseback Riding in the Hot Weather
You should not go horseback riding on the hottest summer days if your horse:
- is old or sick
- is overweight
- is recovering from an injury
- is not used to high temperatures
- only works occasionally
Even slow and seemingly relaxing riding can overheat a weakened horse.
On hot days, try to schedule your horse activities for the cooler hours of the morning or evening, and plan your route so that you spend as much time as possible in shaded areas.
The temperature is lower during these hours than during the day, and the heat is less stressful for the animal.
However, the temperature isn’t the only factor to consider when deciding whether or not to go for a ride on a steamy summer day. The heat and humidity together are the primary sources of your concern.
When your horse gets hot, his body reacts by sweating. As a result, the evaporation of the sweat on the horse’s skin cools its body.
When the humidity in the air is more than 75%, the horse can’t cool itself well by simply sweating. This is because the air is so humid that the sweat from your horse can’t evaporate properly.
You can find the heat index value by adding heat and humidity values.
Heat Index = Temperature + Humidity
With this value, you can determine whether or not your horse can safely work and be active in the outside environment.
• Heat Index lower than 130
The horse can be active outside.
• Heat Index between 130-170
Your horse’s capacity to regulate its body temperature will decrease. Keep an eye on the horse’s health and go for only a short ride or training session.
• A heat index of 170 or greater
Cancel planned activities. Even a short period of moderate exercise is enough to raise a horse’s temperature to dangerous or even fatal levels.
After a ride, give your horse a good cool-down, ideally with a hose or sponge, to remove sweat and speed up the cooling process.
4. Traveling with Horses in Hot Weather
Taking your horse on the road during hot weather might be challenging, but there are steps you can take to ensure your horse’s health and safety.
During long-distance travel of more than 8 hours, the truck should have a temperature and humidity monitoring system. Indications of temperature and humidity should be under the driver’s control at all times.
If the forecasted outdoor temperature along the route is more than 85°F (29°C), long-distance trips should be postponed.
Maintain a regular schedule of stopping to assess the horses’ condition.
Organize Your Trip in Advance
- Before you go, ensure you have enough water and hay to keep your horses cool by giving them water frequently.
- If your trip is more than 8 hours long, you must have a water supply system in a horse trailer. All horses should have uncomplicated access to clean drinking water.
- Increase the space between the horses to make sure they are comfortable and to keep them from getting too hot due to being too close to one another. Foals and young horses need to be able to lie down on long trips.
- Check for road closures, detours, or traffic accidents along your route. Adapt your driving route as needed to current road conditions.
- Before you head off, double-check to make sure the trailer is at a comfortable temperature. The best solution is to install a fan, although opening the windows is a must.
Travel During the Cooler Hours of the Day
When combined with severe humidity, extreme heat can make travel unpleasant and even deadly.
If the forecast forecasts elevated temperatures, you have two choices on how to proceed with your trip:
- The early hours of the morning, when the sun is not yet at its highest point in the sky, and your surroundings have not yet been warmed up. Roads, in particular, heat up rapidly, significantly increasing the ambient temperature.
- Evening and nighttime hours, when the sun is no longer warming the earth and the temperature outside drops significantly.
- Keep an eye on the horse trailer’s temperature and humidity indications
- Check the road conditions regularly to avoid traffic jams
- Plan your route so that you can stop and check on the horse’s health
- Park in the shade at all times
- Always keep an eye on the horse’s health
- Check to see if your horse has fresh water or provide water to your horse
- Keep the ventilation going
- Stop as briefly as possible to avoid extending the trip
If You Get Stuck in Traffic
If your horse is in the trailer, the last thing you want is to get trapped in traffic during a heat wave.
How Does the Sun Affect Horses?
Sweating is the only way for a horse to cool down when the temperature is too high for its body to handle.
During periods of heavy sweating, a substantial amount of electrolytes and water are lost. The body’s fluids must be balanced for the heart muscle to fulfil its basic activities.
Foals and older horses are much more likely to get dehydrated because their complex mechanisms for controlling their body temperature don’t always work well.
The body sweats profusely, but because it cannot fully evaporate, it cannot be efficiently cooled through sweating.
The horse’s thermoregulation systems can be disrupted if the animal is not getting enough water, which can prevent it from sweating enough to adapt to the environment.
The danger of heatstroke increases dramatically in animals whose thermoregulation processes are compromised. Keep an eye on young or elderly horses and ill or overweight animals.
Phototoxic and Photoallergic Reactions
Horses being treated with photosensitizing and phototoxic drugs are at high risk.
Some substances may temporarily increase the sensitivity of the skin to UV light. In this situation, skin that is exposed to the sun is vulnerable. When a horse has photoallergy, the skin reaction might also affect bodily areas that have not been exposed to sunlight.
While nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used as anti-inflammatories and painkillers to help a horse, horse owners should be aware that further sun contact with the skin of a sick horse on these drugs may end up harming it.
Antibiotics are another type of treatment that is frequently given to horses. However, when a horse is on antibiotics and is exposed to the sun, it can develop unpleasant skin problems.
Sunburn symptoms can also occur in horses that consume certain herbs, such as St. John’s wort and buckwheat.
As in humans, UV radiation in horses can cause the development of pathological changes in the skin cells.
Gray and white horses have a considerably higher risk of developing melanoma than horses with darker colors.
The warm summer weather is delightful but can be dangerous for people and animals alike. Ensure your horse gets the necessary care to stay healthy and perform well.
Water, high-quality shade, and shelter are essential for keeping horses cool and comfortable during the hot summer months.