Summer has finally arrived and as temperatures soar and we all top up our tans (or hide in the shade!) it is important to remember that it is not just people that suffer in the sun. Many horses and ponies may find the current heatwave uncomfortable, especially if travelling, competing or working hard at home but the good news there is plenty you can do to keep them cool, calm and happy.
Like us horses sweat which involves fluid and electrolyte loss. This occurs on a normal British day, however add in our mini-heatwave and large fluid losses may occur. It is very important to keep your horse hydrated, with a constant supply of clean fresh water being essential- water that has been left to stand too long may become warm and unpalatable. If your horses are turned out in groups try and make sure there is more than one water source available so all herd members get their turn at the trough!When working even short periods of exercise will cause fluid loss and performance is affected once dehydration reaches between 2-4% of bodyweight. For an average 500kg horse this is 10-20 litres, which could be achieved by travelling and competing on a hot summer’s day. It is well known that horses can be fussy when drinking away from home, so where possible try taking some water from home with you to encourage drinking. If they are being really fussy use apples in the bucket to encourage ‘bobbing’ and increased water consumption. Providing a very sloppy unmolassed sugarbeet feed can also be helpful, whatever works to keep your horse drinking!
If your horse is sweating they will require electrolyte supplementation. For light sweating (e.g. a damp patch under the saddle) table salt in the bucket feed or a salt lick in the stable should be sufficient, however if your horse is heavily sweating then providing a specific electrolyte supplement will aid recovery post performance.
If you are planning on exercising your horse do it in the morning or evening when it is coolest and don’t forget to wear hi-vis when riding on the road as bright sunshine can make it difficult for drivers to spot you. After riding cool your horse down properly. Applying cool water to the neck and inner thigh is effective as this is where the large blood vessels are close to the surface, cooling a larger amount of blood in the shortest time! Hosing down the rest of them will be appreciated too!
Just think of the relief when you dive under that parasol in an attempt to cool down, your horse needs that too! Providing shelter in hot weather is essential, whether that is a walk in field shelter or a well ventilated stable to escape the rays. As long as you have access to a well ventilated stable that remains cool in the day, it can quite often be beneficial to keep horses in during the day and turn out at night. This is also beneficial if you have a horse that requires a low sugar diet, as long stretches of bright sunlight on the grass increases sugar content!
Quite often with the hot weather come the flies, so using a good quality fly sheet, mask and insect repellent may provide some relief to your horse. Removing droppings frequently from the stable and field can reduce the attraction and spraying repellent on the walls and doorways of stables and shelters can also be beneficial.
When you are applying your sun cream remember your horses white bits too! Non-pigmented areas can burn easily, especially the muzzle and tips of the ears, so applying sun cream to these areas can help protect them.
Although hopefully your horse will not suffer with heatstroke it is best to know the signs, just in case. These include; increased pulse and breathing rate, irregular heartbeat, dehydration and a raised temperature. If you are concerned your horse may have heatstroke, move them somewhere cool and seek veterinary help immediately.