For our equine friends, overheating can mean much more than discomfort. It can mean death. Unfortunately, due to inadequate care, far too many innocent horses lose their lives to heatstroke annually.
A horse’s average body temperature can lie anywhere between 98.5 and 101 degrees Fahrenheit, but that figure will undoubtedly rise as they exercise or work. A horse caregiver must assist the animal with ridding their horse of that excess heat. If not, brain damage may commence.
Here are the simplest ways to keep a horse cool when it is hot outside:
Keep Them Hydrated
Always offer an overheated horse cool water. Coldwater enables the horse’s internal temperature to eventually cool to the same degree as the refreshing drink. Just be sure to make the water easily accessible and plentiful in quantity. Try placing troughs and buckets throughout the pastures and provide enough for all horses that are turned out.
And, water not only cools, but it also hydrates, protecting the horse from organ damage. Adding electrolytes to replace those that the horse has lost due to sweating is recommended. A few ounces of plain salt should meet both equine base sodium and base chloride requirements.
Always Provide Shade
It is imperative for all horses to seek cooler air in the summer, and the coolest air outdoors is always in the shade. Horses must escape the sun’s direct rays, and, as such, most horses tend to seek relief beneath trees. And, not only do the trees provide respite from the heat, the breezes tend to blow through them.
However, any type of four-walled shelter, such as a barn, works even better. After all, heat rises, and the outside air that comes in through windows and doorways warms, rises, and is usually let out through roof vents. Table and window fans increase circulation and keep the air moving.
However, when the shade is limited in an area, it is best to reduce turnout time to four hours per day, usually before noon.
Wipe or Hose Down the Horse
To immediately cool down an overheated horse, sponge them with ice water or spray them down with a hose if there is a water source nearby. Use a steady stream to wet the horse’s head, neck, back, legs, and backside.
Then, if they have not immediately cooled off, try attaching bags full of ice wrapped in towels around their legs. Using ice to chill a horse is both safe and recommended when it is needed.
In conclusion, remember that, as a rule, when a rider feels overheated, the horse feels much worse. This is because they rely entirely on humans to manage their cooling needs and can’t tell us how they feel. However, with careful planning, general knowledge, and acute observation, a good caregiver should have no problem keeping a horse comfortable, healthy, and safe.