Summer is a great time to get out and enjoy your horse, but the season also comes with management challenges. As the temperatures rises, so does your horse’s risk of overheating. Horse trailers can become sweltering, stalls stifling, and exercise dangerous. Read on for answers about your worries in the hot weather regarding riding, hydration, and transportation.

It has been lovely to have some sunshine lately but this can present some real challenges when caring for your horse! Do you know the signs of heat stroke or heat exhaustion are?

Your horse may present with the following symptoms:

Panting (faster, shallow breathing)
Nostril flaring
Increased rectal temperature
Decreased appetite and thirst
Dark urine
Reduced urination
Reduced performance
Dark mucous membranes
Muscle spasms
'Thumps" (synchronous diaphragmatic flutter)
Abnormal (irregular) heart rhythm
Slow recovery after exercise

Heat exhaustion, if not managed properly and quickly, can progress to heat stroke. This could lead to ataxia (being unsteady on the feet) and/or collapse.

Contact your veterinarian right away if you suspect your horse is having a heat stroke.

Here are some top tips on preventing heatstroke for your horse:

1. Shelter

It is essential to keep your horse cool in the hope weather and one of the ways you can ensure this is by providing adequate shelter. If your horse has a stable you need to give some consideration to which way the stable faces if your horse is in during the day. You will need to look at the ventilation in the stable, and consider providing a fan that you can mount on the wall to help keep your horse cool as well! Keep the cords and plugs out of the horse’s reach to prevent electrocution.

If your horse is field kept then you need to provide some protection from the sun too, either in the form of trees or field shelter.

2. Hydration
Horses must always have access to clean fresh water at all times. In hot weather your horse may drink considerably so you will need to provide an extra bucket in the stable if you use them. You may find some horses can be reluctant to drink at shows and competitions - a good way to deal with this is to take water with you, and try and find a ‘flavour’ that your horse likes to encourage them to drink it! Adding a small amount of apple juice or squash can help, or even making a ‘smoothie’ with very wet soaked sugar beet to make it more palatable will help to hydrate them.

When a horse sweats they lose electrolytes (mineral salts such as sodium, potassium and chloride that are necessary for muscles to contract and for the transition of nerve impulses) in large volumes. Offering water alone won’t replace electrolytes if your horse has worked hard and sweated a lot so they should be given to horses who are sweating significantly, and this isn’t limited to competition horses. Other examples of horses that need supplementation with electrolytes include an unfit horse in light to moderate work, or a nervous traveller. You can read more about how to safely administer electrolytes here.

3. Riding
As individual animals cope wth heat differently depending on factors such as type, breed or fitness levels, there is no set temperature at which they shouldn’t be ridden. However, it is sensible to adjust your schedule to ride early in the morning or late at night when it is cooler - and this will be more comfortable for you too! If you think that you might feel too hot and bothered in your jodhpurs then it is highly likely that your horse will feel too hot and bothered too - your horse has much larger muscles than you so will get even hotter!. If you are still unsure as to whether your ride is necessary then ask yourself what are your motivations for wanting to ride. Do you have an important competition coming up, are you working your horse as part of a rehabilitation program, or exercising them as part of a weight loss campaign?

4. Cooling your horse down
Allow your horse to cool down after work by walking them, and then remove the tack as quickly as possible to start the cooling process.

The most effective way to cool a horse is with cold water all over the body surface - the water really needs to be 15°C or less. Water around 5°C is ideal and the most effective.

Warm water is not any good for cooling down horses except by evaporation. If ice is available, then use it to cool down the water - it is a myth that this will cause constriction of blood vessels and prevent the horse cooling down. You do not need to scrape off water, this is another myth! You can read more about the new thinking on scraping here.

Remember blankets, towels or rugs should never be used as these will trap the heat.

5. Clipping
If you do have lot of plans to go riding over the summer then you might like to consider clipping your horse, particularly if you have a ‘cob’ type with a thicker coat. This will help keep them cooler and more comfortable during spells of warmer weather. If you want to know more about Clipping we offer a mini course on the subject. You can read more about this here.

8. Avoid sunburn
Horses, especially white horses, can suffer from sunburn. Even those with white socks and blazes, pink noses, or hairless patches from scarring can be susceptible. Using a fly scrim can help. In addition, applying sunblock to small, particularly vulnerable areas can be effective. Staying out of the sun’s harmful rays will, of course, be best.

8. Travelling
The best time for travelling with your horse will be either very early or as late as possible when the temperatures are cooler. If you do not have air conditioning it will be very unpleasant for you horse to be standing in a trailer or lorry stationary on hot roads at high temperatures. It is essential to think about the ventilation that your lorry or trailer offers, and how you can improve this. A 4-5 hour journey would see your horse become considerably dehydrated during the hotter part of the day. Once you reach your destination you will need to be able to provide some shade and shelter there too - a trailer parked in the full sun will soon turn into an oven, not pleasant for horses to be standing in all day long.