Summer is perfect for equestrians: sunny days, more time in the saddle, and no wet, muddy horses to groom. Summer also brings soaring temperatures though which can make it difficult to enjoy your time at the barn. Keep you and your horse cool with our guide to surviving the sizzling summer.
Change Up Your Routine
Consider reversing your horse’s routine if they are normally stabled at night. By being turned out in the paddock at night instead, and stabled during the day, he will avoid both the hottest weather and flies too.
Horses that live out 24/7 will need access to shelter from the sun. Trees can offer natural shade, or an open-fronted structure will shield them from the elements.
You might also want to change your riding routine in the summer months. Keep your horse cool by riding first thing in the morning, or later in the evening. Avoid doing chores in the midday sun too; no one enjoys working in the sweltering heat.
The early alarm clock might be a shock at first but it’s well worth it for sunrise rides (perfect for an Instagram shot between the ears), and the satisfaction of retreating inside to the air conditioning by lunchtime.
Plan Your Rides
As well as adapting your riding schedule to avoid the hottest part of the day, consider planning your training. A jumping session might be best suited to a day with a cooler weather forecast. A ride in the woods with some shade could be a good option when the temperature is rising. Or, if you’re lucky enough to have a beach or lake nearby, head there for a cooling dip in the water.
Reduce the intensity, length, or time of summer schooling sessions to prevent your horse from overheating. On hot days, it could be a good opportunity to work on the basics, or even do some groundwork with your horse. Remember to have lots of breaks throughout your training to recover.
When competing, use your time efficiently in the warm-up. Training is done at home, not at a show. A short and simple warm-up will preserve energy for when it counts in the ring.
Sometimes things don’t go to plan. Don’t be afraid to cut your ride short if you or your horse are getting too hot. In extreme heat, it’s best to avoid riding altogether, even if that wasn’t part of the plan.
Preparing Your Horse for Hot Weather
A fit horse is much better equipped to deal with sizzling temperatures. Use the spring to condition your horse ready for the summer season. If your horse is unfit, be realistic about the workload and adjust to slower, steadier rides on hot days. Building up the intensity and duration will give your horse a chance to acclimatise to the warmer weather.
After riding, it’s important to properly cool your horse down. Walk for the last 10 to 15 minutes of your ride until his breathing has returned to normal.
Untack and offer your horse some water. It’s a common myth that horses shouldn’t drink after exercise to avoid colic. Providing water immediately helps your horse recover and reduces the risk of dehydration. Give water in moderation as part of your cool-down routine.
Next, wash him off with cool water. A hose works best but liberally sponging will get the job done too. You can apply water and scrape it off but the best way to rapidly cool a horse is to keep applying water. You want to keep cooling until your horse’s skin is no longer hot and his breathing has returned to normal.
Walk your horse out whilst cooling to keep the blood flowing. This, combined with the airflow, will further help to cool him.
Food and Water
Electrolytes are essential minerals that are needed to help your horse function. His feed will normally provide enough for light or moderate work. In harder work, or hot weather though your horse will sweat more. Electrolytes help your horse retain water, so offering water alone may not be enough to rehydrate him. Adding electrolytes to feed or water will help to replace these lost minerals.
A salt block in your horse’s stable or field is another way to help replenish salt loss.
Access to fresh water at all times is vital. If your horse is a fussy drinker, flavouring the water may entice him to drink. Some electrolytes can help with this, or adding a little apple juice. Another option to up your horse’s water intake is to provide a soaked feed. Wet mashes help to hydrate your horse but remember to make any changes to feed gradually.
Feeding soaked or steamed hay is another way to increase your horse’s water intake.
Keep it Breezy
Consider the amount of airflow in your horse’s barn or stable. Open windows and doors to increase ventilation. You could also attach a box fan to the front of his stall for a cooling breeze. Some barns are fitted with ceiling fans to help circulate the air. Another option is to attach a box fan to the front of the stall. This will help provide a cooling breeze but do ensure that any fan you use is specifically designed for agricultural use.
Sunny days don’t just result in higher temperatures but the risk of sunburn too. Access to shelter in the field is key so your horse can get out of the sun.
You might want to apply sunscreen to more vulnerable areas such as the muzzle, or pink skin. A fly mask with UV protection can also offer protection from the sun’s rays.
Whilst our horses always come first, don’t forget to look after yourself too. Applying sunscreen, drinking lots of water, and taking breaks are just as important for you.
A ventilated riding hat will help keep you both cool and protected in the saddle. When you’re not riding, wearing a baseball cap or a wide-brimmed hat will shield your head and face from the sun.
Know the Signs of Overheating
It’s important to recognize the symptoms of overheating so you can act quickly if needed. Watch out for these signs:
- Continuous rapid breathing – get to know what the normal recovery time after exercise is for your horse.
- Stumbling or unwilling to move – if your horse seems uncoordinated or suddenly stubborn whilst ridden he could be overheating.
- Increased temperature – your horse’s normal temperature is usually between 99 – 100°F (37.3 – 38.3°C). Readings above this suggest signs of overheating and temperatures over 105°F (40.5°C) can indicate heat stroke.
- Lack of interest – an overheated horse may become disinterested in his environment or stop eating.
- Excess or no sweating – a horse sweating more than normal is concerning but a lack of sweat is even more worrying as sweating helps to cool the horse down.
- Discolored gums – pink, wet gums are seen in healthy horses. Anything other than this implies dehydration.
Pinch test: to see if your horse is dehydrated, pinch some skin on the shoulder or neck. The skin will go back to normal on a hydrated horse but hold the pinched form for a couple of seconds or longer on a dehydrated horse.
Helping an Overheated Horse
Prevention is better than cure but if your horse shows signs of overheating follow these steps:
- Immediately stop riding and untack.
- Move your horse out of the sun and into the shade.
- Hose continuously with cold water, or use buckets of water. On an overheated horse, it’s best to keep applying water than waste time scraping it off.
- Alternate cooling with water and walking in a shady area.
- Offer drinking water to rehydrate and provide electrolytes if possible.
- It might take 10 – 15 minutes for the horse to be noticeably cooler. You can stop the cooling when your horse is no longer hot to the touch, and their breathing has returned to normal.
- If there is no improvement, call the vet.
Look after your horse’s health and your own for a fun-filled summer. Whether you are enjoying some trail riding, heading to a competition, or training at home, we hope you beat the heat and stay cool.