Understanding Equine Cooling Mechanisms: How Horses Beat the Heat

Summer heat and exertion cause your horse’s temperature to rise. How does your horse keep its internal temperature at a healthy level when faced with these challenges?

4 primary cooling mechanisms for horses:

  1. Evaporative Cooling: Horses have a highly developed sweating mechanism, which is one of their primary ways to cool down. When a horse becomes hot, its sweat glands produce sweat, which is mainly composed of water and electrolytes. As the sweat evaporates from the horse’s skin surface, it carries away heat, helping to cool the body.
  2. Vasodilation: Equines also use vasodilation as a cooling mechanism. When a horse is hot, its blood vessels near the skin’s surface dilate or expand, allowing more blood to flow closer to the skin. This increased blood flow facilitates heat dissipation through convection and radiation, as the warm blood comes in contact with the cooler air or objects.
  3. Respiratory Cooling: Horses can regulate their body temperature through respiratory cooling. They have a large respiratory surface area and a high respiratory rate, which enables them to expel excess heat through breathing. As the horse inhales air, the moist nasal passages and respiratory tract absorb heat from the body. When the horse exhales, the heat is expelled along with the warm air, helping to cool down the horse’s internal temperature.
  4. Conduction: Conduction is a cooling mechanism that horses can utilize by coming into contact with cooler surfaces. For example, if a horse stands or lies down on a cool, shaded area such as a patch of grass or a cool floor, heat can transfer from the horse’s body to the cooler surface through conduction, aiding in cooling.

Understanding how your horse cools itself can help you design your care and exercise program.

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