Horses tend to deal with cold days better than hot.
Every year, there are many cases of dehydration and heatstroke that can be fatal. But with proper and responsible equine management practices, you can help your horse get through summer safely and comfortably.
So how do you know if the day is too hot for your horse to handle?
Heat-Stress Signs to Look Out For
The following are signs that your horse could be under heat stress:
- Elevated respiratory rate
- Elevated heart rate
- Sweating heavily
- Rise in body temperature
Elevated respiratory rate
The elevated respiratory rate happens as your horse tries to breathe hard forcing the air to flow past the vessels found in the lungs and airways of the horse. This mechanism helps cool the horse’s blood.
However, it becomes risky when the respiratory rate shoots up to 40-50 breaths per minute or even more. If you observe that your horse’s breathing is shallow and does not return to its normal pace after resting for two minutes, take warning.
Elevated Heart Rate
The heart action pumps out blood to reach to the skin surfaces so it can be cooled by the air in the environment. The average heart rate at rest is from 30 to 40 beats per minute. But when the heart rate increases to more than 80 bpm and does not seem to normalize after a period of rest, it can be risky for your horse.
To check for your horse’s heart rate, use a stethoscope. If your horse is standing, make him place his left front foot forward. Position the stethoscope against the chest, the spot just below the left elbow, moving as far forward under the horse’s elbow if necessary.
Pay attention to the sound of his heartbeat, characterized with the “lub-dub” sound.
Count the beats for a period of 15 seconds, and multiply that number by four to come up with his beats per minute.
Sweating is the body’s way to cool off as it is a form of evaporation.
It’s a good thing that your horse will sweat but it’s a bad thing if he sweats heavily and a lot. Heavy or profuse sweating can leave your horse dehydrated.
On the other hand, a much worse case is when your horse stops sweating – this means that your horse does not have a way to release the heat that has been building up inside its body.
The body temperature will then increase further and further leading to heat stroke.
Rise in Body Temperature
When there is a significant rise in the body temperature, it only means that the horse’s cooling mechanisms have malfunctioned.
Monitor his rectal temperature and make sure that it does not go beyond 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
When under heat stress, the blood is transferred from the vital organs to the skin surfaces to be cooled, exacerbating heat stress in the process. As a result, your horse tends to become lethargic, depressed, and may lose interest in its food.
How to treat your horse for heatstroke
Heat stroke should be treated as a serious condition. Severe cases can lead to seizures and even death of a horse. If you notice signs of heat stroke in your horse, you need to take immediate measures to help him cool down.
- Stop the workouts; dismount from your horse and cease the exercise program. Remove tack to allow cool air to penetrate its body.
- A cold water bath on its entire body is always helpful
- Give your horse cold water for drinking and allow him to drink to his pleasure
- Lead your horse to a shaded area to help him cool off more
- Contact your vet if the signs mentioned above are not resolved despite several minutes of resting.
Ways to prevent heatstroke and keep a horse cool in summer
Here are tips to help your horse maintain its cool this summer:
- When you ride, do it early during the day.
- Minimize tack and if you have to put him inside a trailer, do not cover him with a blanket
- Give your horse access to fresh and cool water all the time.
- If your horse is set to work hard during the day, provide electrolytes in its water.
- Keep your horse in tip-top shape. Overweight horses need more energy to move about, and so will produce more heat.
The overall health of your horse partly plays an important role in handling summer heat. Sick or debilitated horses cannot spend enough energy needed to cool off.
With responsible equine care, you can keep a horse cool in summer so you can enjoy the long days with endless fun.