Caring For Horses In Extreme Heat
Summer has finally arrived, bringing sunny weather with warm temperatures here in Eastern Pennsylvania. At times, summer may bring high temperatures along with humidity, causing high heat indexes, which can be sometimes unbearable. What can be done to help keep the horses comfortable and healthy during this time?
For starters, always, always, ALWAYS make sure there is fresh water available for the horses at ALL times. Like us, they will sweat, resulting in dehydration and possibly colic if water is not accessible. During the hot weather, horses can drink up to 20 gallons or more daily. (Their average water intake is five to seven gallons per day.)
Electrolyte supplements may be added to the horses diet to replace lost electrolytes from sweating and to keep the horse drinking. They should also have access to a salt block to meet their daily dietary salt intake. Or, you could add about a teaspoon of salt supplement to their feed.
If you happen to have a horse that does not drink much water, adding water to its feed or feeding some mash to the horse will increase its intake of water.
Flies and insects tend to become unbearable as the heat and humidity increase. During the day, when the flies and insects are at their worst, horses can be covered with fly sheets and fly boots, insect repellent applied, brought into the barn with fans blowing. Since flies and insects are not strong fliers, the breeze from the fan will keep the flies off for the most part.
Horses should have some sort of shelter or shad to get out of the hot sun. Shade trees or a well ventilated run-in shed would be ideal.
Most horses appreciate being hosed down with cool water during the humid days of summer. If a horse does not care for hosing, sponging down with cool water is an alternative. Some barns even have misters hooked up that spray a light mist every so often.
Heat stress is a huge concern for horses that are ridden hard and compete. If riding during the heat is a must, keep it to light riding. Horses that sweat for long periods of time are more at risk for heat stress due to dehydration and loss of electrolytes along with heat generated by working muscles during physical exertion.
If a horse does experience heat stress, untack the horse immediately, then take its temperature rectally. A temperature over 103 degrees F indicates heat stress. Move the horse into shade and soak the horse down with cool water, continuously scraping off the water and reapplying it. This process can stop once the chest feels cool or the rectal temperature measures less than 103 degrees F. Caution must be taken not to cool the horse off too rapidly. This can sometimes cause muscle cramping. Periodically walk the horse for about 5-10 minutes between soakings to release the heat from the muscles.
Most horses adjust to the warmer temperatures without problems. If there are any concerns, consult your veterinarian.