Summer Horse Health Tips For Hot Weather

Summer offers longer days which provides more riding time. It’s also the hottest time of the year and horse owners should proceed with caution. Equines can overheat in hot, humid temperatures causing dehydration and overall discomfort. Severe cases may lead to diarrhea or even colic.

Maintain Your Horse’s Hydration

The single most important way to help your horse stay cool and avoid becoming dehydrated is to offer unlimited access to fresh, cool water. Keeping water troughs and buckets clean and free of algae build-up makes it more likely that your horse will drink his or her fill. Horses typically drink 5 to 10 gallons of water per day. This number increases as the temperature and humidity increases. The amount of exercise will also have a direct affect on your horse’s fluid intake. When traveling, you may need to encourage your horse to drink unfamiliar water by adding apple juice or Gatorade to a bucket of fresh water.

Causes of Overheating

Avoid heat-related issues by addressing potential problems before summer kicks off:
  • Poor barn ventilation
  • No shade/inadequate shade
  • Overworking
  • Hauling in a enclosed trailer
  • Overweight and/or poor body condition
  • Thick winter coat
  • Inability to sweat (Anhidrosis)

Keep Your Horse Cool on Hot Days

Horses in hot, humid temperatures can succumb to heat-stress or even worse, heat stroke. Take some time to address your horse’s health and current body condition. Also check your barn’s airflow as well as your horse’s ability to access water and shade especially in the hottest part of the day.

Here are a few more tips to keep your horse from overheating this summer:

  1. Turn horses out when it's cooler such as in the early morning. If your horse is typically turned out for the better part of the day, you may want to consider overnight turnout.
  2. Horses that are out during the day require shade from either a run-in shed or lean-to. Trees do not provide reliable shade as it changes as the sun moves.
  3. Keep stalls and barn aisles cool by moving the air with fans.
  4. Provide access to clean, cool fresh water to keep horses hydrated. It’s important to also replenish the salts and minerals lost during sweating with electrolytes or salt blocks.
  5. Change your riding times to the cooler hours of the day. If that’s not an option, ease up on the daily workouts to avoid heat exhaustion. Don’t forget to properly cool him or her down at the end of your ride.
  6. Avoid sunburn by changing turnout times or applying equine sunblock. Use of a fly scrim can also help protect sensitive skin from the sun’s damaging rays.
  7. Install misting fans or a misting system to cool horses down as well as drop the ambient temperature of your barn. If this isn’t an option, hosing your horses down throughout the day can help keep them cool and comfortable.
  8. Don’t forget unlimited access to cool, clean water!

How to Cool Down an Overheated Horse

Just like people, there may be summer days where your horse just gets too hot. They can’t tell you how they feel so you have to watch them closely for signs like excessive or no sweat, dehydration, huffing and puffing, and an elevated heart rate. You can help him or her cool down by hosing him down with cool water. Spray his head, neck, back, rump and legs until the horse has cooled down. For extremely hot horses, adding ice can quickly reduce his core body temp and heart rate after workouts. Avoid icing the hind end. Skip the sheets and blankets as they block evaporation which is a crucial part of cooling horses down in hot, humid conditions.

Caring For Horses During the Heat of Summer

It's important to know your horse’s behavior and temperament when they are well. This will help you spot when he’s off due to dehydration, heat stress or heat stroke. Non-sweaters living in hot, humid temperatures are at an even higher risk of heat stroke and should be evaluated by a licensed veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment. If you travel to a new area and your horse isn't accustomed to such high temperatures, give them at least 2 weeks to acclimate. This will build up his heat tolerance and make it safer for him to show, compete or exercise in the summer weather. By following the hot weather horse care tips we've shared, you and your horse can safely enjoy the longer, laidback days of summertime.