Friday, August 13, 2010

Beating the Heat: Keeping your Horse Cool during the Dog Days of Summer

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By: Darlene M. Cox,

The dog days of summer seem to have come early this year, with temperatures soaring well into the 90's and humidity levels hovering in the 70 percentile range as early as June. One can only guess what August temperatures may be.

Keeping your horse cool during hot days is important not only to his level of comfort, but also his health. Heat stroke and heat exhaustion can occur quite easily in horses when temperatures and humidity levels soar.

You can keep your horse cool, happy, and healthy by doing the following:


Plan your riding or training activities during the cooler parts of the day, either early in the morning or in the evening. If the heat index is at or above 150, plan on light riding or workouts only. You can determine the heat index using the following formula: Temperature + Humidity - Wind speed.

If you trail ride, take breaks from riding often and offer your horse water at each available watering site on the trail. Remember to allow all horses in your group the opportunity to drink before starting down the trail again.

For training sessions, break up training into 15 minute segments with a rest period in between and offer water between each segment.


Supplementing with electrolytes is very important when riding or working your horse during hot weather. Electrolyte supplements replenish the salt your horse loses during sweating and will encourage water consumption. Low electrolyte levels in your horse may cause fatigue and cramping. Colic may also be caused by an electrolyte imbalance.


Always have cool, clean water available for your horse. Place pasture water troughs in the shade and re-fill regularly to keep the water fresh and clean. Horses do not like to drink stagnant water.

Daytime Stalling:

If you prefer to stall your horses during the day and turn out onto pasture at night, place box fans on each stall and a large utility fan in the barn aisle to circulate air throughout the barn. Stalling during the day also cuts down on fly/insect aggravation. Water buckets should be kept filled with cool, clean water.


Pastures and paddocks should offer some form of shade for your horse, whether it be from a tree line, a run-in shed, or shade from the side of the barn. If there is no shade to be offered, do not turn your horse out until the cooler part of the day.


Nothing feels better than cool water from a hose on a hot day. We knew this as children and our horses enjoy the cool water, too. Concentrate the water flow on the major blood vessels in the legs, under belly, and neck. Cooling the blood will also lower your horse's body temperature.


If you must trailer your horse during the summer months, plan your travels during early morning or evening hours. If the horse box of your trailer has ample room, install a box fan to blow air over your horse and circulate around the box. Make sure all windows and vents are open. Stop often to offer water. Keep dampened beach towels on ice and place over your horse during rest breaks.

Heat Stroke: Know the Signs:

Heat stroke does not only happen to horses that are being ridden or worked. Pastured and stalled horses can also succumb to heat stroke, particularly if they work up a sweat from stomping at biting flies and insects or are kept in a stuffy, hot stall. Increased, or worse yet the absence of, sweating as well as elevated respiratory/heart rates and body temperature may well indicate heat stroke. If you see these signs accompanied by lethargy presume your horse is having a heat stroke and immediately stop all activity and if possible, get him out of direct sun and into shade. Hose off the large blood vessels in his body (legs, under belly, and heck) with water. Call your veterinarian if heart/respiratory rates do not improve or his condition worsens!

Summertime with your horse can be quite an enjoyable season and keeping him cool and happy will ensure that you will get to enjoy the fall months of riding that are just around the corner.

Happy trails!