Identifying Heat Stress and Essential Tips to Help Your Horse Handle the Heat

Heat stress in horses can have dire consequences including rapid dehydration, respiratory distress, colic, and more.

Here are some tips to help you manage your horse’s care in the heat:

1. Learn to recognize signs of heat stress or heat exhaustion including excessive sweating, not sweating at all, very hot to touch, rapid breathing or labored breathing, lack of appetite or interest in its surroundings and unsteadiness. If you think your horse might be overheating, call your Vet immediately WHILE cool your horse down by hosing him continuously all over his body with cool water.

2. When your horse drinks cool water, the cool water entering its system absorbs some of the heat from its body, reducing the internal temperature. While drinking cool water alone may not be sufficient for significant body cooling in situations of high heat or intense physical activity, it can certainly help.

3. Refresh waters daily to encourage your horse drink more, with a constant supply of clean, cool water. As a general rule, expect your horse drink at least 2-3 times as much water during hot temperatures – that could be more than 20 gallons per day!

4. Provide access to a white salt 24/7, and supplement with electrolytes to cover other essential minerals lost through sweat. Studies have shown that, even when turned out with little activity, horses in hot weather can lose over 1 gallon of sweat per hour. During high temperatures, your horse will likely need to a well-balanced electrolyte, in addition to salt.

5. Keep barns, stalls, and trailers well-ventilated with fresh air, and when possible, a safe fan to provide a cooling breeze.

6. For pastured horses, provide shade or shelter with good air flow, and when possible, a safe fan to provide a cooling breeze.

7. Older horses and horses with health conditions may find heat and humidity extra challenging and require extra care and support to stay cool and healthy.

8. Opt for lighter workouts in the mornings or evenings and avoid the hottest times of the day. Horses are at a significantly higher risk for heat stress when exercised in hot temperatures.

9. Bathe or spray your horse with cool water to cool their core temperatures and give them a break from the heat for a little while. This can be done multiple times a day.

Myth Busting: Contrary to popular myth, scraping water off hot horses doesn’t help cool them down.

The speed of cooling is related to three things:

  1. The temperature of the water.
  2. The amount of surface of your horse that you cover with water.
  3. The amount of water you put on.

The fastest way to cool your horse will be with lots of cold water all over the body.

The Role of Electrolytes

Electrolytes are essential minerals involved in regulating your horse’s fluid balance, nerve and muscle function, and other important physiological processes. Electrolytes are lost through sweat and urine

In hot conditions your horse can lose 10-15 liters (2.6-4 gallons) of sweat per hour! If your horse is in training, competing or living in hot and humid conditions it will require more electrolytes than if it were less active or in cooler environments. Lost electrolytes will need to be replaced in order for your horse’s body to be able to function normally.

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