It is vital for horse owners to understand the normal physiology of their horse when exercising it during summer weather.
UNDERSTANDING YOUR HORSE'S PHYSIOLOGY
- Core Body Temperature - during exercise a horse’s body will generate heat faster than when it is still or resting. A great portion of the energy used by a horse during exercise gets converted to heat instead of motion. The greater the level of activity, the greater the amount of heat generated; which can be dangerous during warm weather months. A horse’s normal core body temperature is 99-100 F; but after exercise during high temperatures can range from 102-106 F.
- Cooling - your horse’s body attempts to cool itself, by allowing excess heat to be released through sweating. As the horse’s temperature increases due to activity, sweat glands trigger the release of heat from the horse’s body, causing him to perspire. As the sweat evaporates, this helps to lower body temperature to a safe range.
- Humidity – unlike a dry heat, humidity makes a horse’s natural cooling process take longer, so it is easier for heat stress to develop.
KEEPING YOUR HORSE COOL
There are four main areas involved in good warm weather horse care:
- Ventilation – it’s imperative that your horse have adequate ventilation in his stall or barn. Heat can get trapped in an enclosed spaced very easily, making the air heavier and harder to breath and making it more difficult for your horse to keep cool, even in the evenings. A fan over your horse’s stall will not only help increase air flow in his space, but will help to cool him.
- Water – encouraging your horse to drink water daily in adequate amounts is essential to not only his health all year long, but handling hotter temperatures more easily. Fresh water should be provided daily in ample quantities. A 1,000 lb. horse requires approximately 8-10 gallons of water per day. Always see that the water is fresh, clean and clear of debris, and cool. A horse will not drink hot water, no matter how thirsty he is; it may seem like a simple thing, but it is very important. Would you want to drink hot water when you are hot? Even if a horse drinks on its own, it may not drink often enough without encouragement. Watch closely the amount of water your horse drinks and provide some salt blocks or loose salt in his feed occasionally if he is not drinking enough. Equally as important is to make sure he has access to water in all areas beyond his stall, to ensure he can drink whenever wanted and needed.
- Planned Exercise - avoid exercising or riding your horse during the hottest hours of the day, which are generally between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Early morning rides will be cooler and more comfortable for both you and your horse. If the pasture you use for your horse lacks shaded areas, it would be better to turn him out at night, or late afternoon when the sun starts to fade.
- Monitoring Heat Stress – Even the best cared for horse, still runs the risk of heat stress in the summer. As a responsible horse owner, you need to know the signs of heat exhaustion and understand the treatment needed when your horse exhibits the symptoms of this dangerous condition. Heatstroke is your horse’s is inability to get rid excess heat stored in his body. This failure to cool himself will cause the brain and other internal organs to receive less oxygen. Along with excessive sweating, which causes a dangerous loss of fluids and electrolytes, it can result in death if not treated:
SYMPTOMS (notify your veterinarian immediately):
- Excessive sweating or absence of sweating in severe instances
- Weakness or stumbling
- Rapid breathing
- Elevated rectal temperature after exercise
- Signs of depression, and absent or seriously decreased appetite
TREATMENT (while waiting for the veterinarian to arrive):
- Give your horse frequent drinks of cool water
- Bathe horse in cool water; bathing feet first then up the legs
- Isopropyl alcohol baths can be helpful for cooling the body temperature
- Use a fan, or get your horse to shade immediately if possible
- Record horse’s rectal temperature every 10-15 minutes for your veterinarian
THINGS TO REMEMBER
- Maintaining your horse’s overall health will make dealing with summer temperatures much easier and help to reduce the effects of heat stress.
- A sick horse’s body will have less energy to cool himself naturally.
- Maintain a good deworming schedule, as internal parasites can make it harder for your horse to deal with the higher temperatures.
- Help protect your horse from insect swarms, flies, mosquitoes and gnats by keeping stalls and barns as free of these pests as possible using approved, equine safe insect sprays, traps and adequate ventilation. A horse that is exhausted from constantly fighting these pests will be weak and more susceptible to heat’s stresses.