Supporting Horses Through Hot Weather
The warmer months are fast approaching and it’s always a wonderful time to enjoy our horses. However, there are a number of considerations that should be made during the summer can present challenges for horses that are important for horse owners to keep in mind.
On average, horses drink between 19 and 40 litres of water per day. When temperatures rise, horses will often drink as much as around 55 litres a day. If they’re in work, they can drink even more. Therefore, it is very important that your horse has access to water at all times during the summer months. If you’re travelling your horse a long distance, it’s important to take frequent stops and offer them water to avoid dehydration.
Signs of dehydration can include trembling, weakness, fatigue, stiffness and signs of pain. Dehydration can also cause colic so it’s definitely something you want to avoid.
If you’re unsure if your horse is hydrated enough, you can use the ‘pinch test’ to check their hydration. Pinch the skin near the point of the shoulder. If your horse is hydrated, it will snap back quickly. It it take longer than 2 seconds to return to normal, that is an indication of hydration. If it takes longer than 4 seconds to return to position, your horse is severely dehydrated and you should consider contacting your vet.
If you believe your horse is dehydrated, or if your horse is doing significant work and sweating a lot, you may want to consider providing electrolytes. Electrolytes are necessary for a wide range of body functions including fluid regulation, digestion and neurological functioning. The are lost in sweat and in hot weather, horses can sweat up to 15 litres per hour. Those electrolytes need to be replenished. You can buy specifically balanced electrolyte products to horses, to add to their water and help them rehydrate. Alternatively, you can add regular table salt to your your horse’s diet daily during the summer months, which will be sufficient if your horse is in light - medium work. Salt should be added at a rate of approximately 50g per day.
Sun burn doesn’t pose significant risk to all horses, but it’s important to be mindful of for horse owner’s. Horses with pink skin, and white colouring on their bodies and faces are particularly susceptible. Even if a horse has dark skin and a dark coat, if they have a white blaze or other white face markings, they have a high risk of sunburn in those areas. A horse with pink skin can experience sunburn anywhere on their bodies but it is most likely on their face, rump and shoulder areas.
The best way to prevent sunburn is to apply a high SPF sunscreen. You may want to consider a fly mask or a fly sheet on as well as they usually provide UV protection. When your horse is turned out, if possible, ensure there is shade available, where they can get out of the hot sun in the middle of the day.
If your horse does get burnt, one of the best ways to manage it is to apply aloe vera gel. Then, be sure to apply sunscreen over the top of that so that the burnt area is protected from additional UV exposure. Your horse will be uncomfortable and probably in some pain if they get sunburnt so be mindful of the area being sensitive. As it starts to heal, it will likely become itchy so you may notice them rubbing the area.
Flies and Bugs
Flies and other bugs, especially midges are rife in the summer months and can cause serious problems for your horse. If your horse has an allergy to the saliva of midges, this will cause them to develop sweet itch. Sweet itch causes extreme itching, leading to rubbing, irritation and a of course the discomfort of the itch itself. There are a number of things you can do to help with sweet itch. Ensure your horse is well covered with a full sweet itch rug, including a hood. This will help to prevent the midges from getting to them and biting them. If your horse does develop a flare up of sweet itch, consider a soothing calamine and/or oatmeal wash for them. This will help to settle the irritation.
Even if your horse doesn’t suffer from sweet itch, there is a great deal of irritation to contend with from flies and other bugs during the summer months. It is sensible to follow a similar protocol in terms of a light mesh rug to protect against flies. Aside from causing irritation, fly bites can cause and disease, so it’s best to actively try to prevent that. Fly masks are also very useful if your horse doesn’t need a full hood.
Consider using a gentle bug repellant spray on your horse during the warmer months to keep the pests away. It’s also useful to add garlic to their diet as it makes horse’s unappealing to flies and other bugs and will reduce the risk of them being bitten or bothered by these bugs.
When the weather heats up, your horse will be fatigued much more quickly and their stamina will be lower than in the cooler months. It is important to adjust their exercise routine accordingly and ensure they are not working too hard for the conditions. Horses can experience heat stroke or tying up if exercised for too long in the heat.
Consider working your horse in the early morning or later in the evening, so that’s it doesn’t take so much out of them or lead them to experience heat stress. It is advisable to avoid exercising your horse between 10am and 3pm in particular. It can help your horse to adjust to the warmer months if you build up their fitness during the Spring. This will ensure they are better able to cope when the Summer months hit. When working your horse in the Summer, also consider taking regular breaks, allowing plenty of time for a cool down at a walk and keeping canter work to a minimum, particularly if you’re riding in the hottest part of the day.
Hot weather can pose a risk to horses and there are important considerations to make to ensure that they thrive through the Summer months. Hydration and appropriate adjustments to your horse’s workload will be the most important and continuous factors to manage. Keeping the heat and humidity and how they can effect your horse front of mind during Summer will help to prevent major issues and keep your horse comfortable.
- Make use of fly sprays, rugs and masks to keep biting insects at bay.
- Poo pick or harrow fields to prevent a build up of droppings which can attract flies.
- Horses like to keep cool, ensure they have access to adequate shade or a field shelter.
- Horses drink A LOT more when it is warm, ensure they always have access to a clean, fresh supply of water.
- Apply a high SPF sunscreen to pink noses to prevent sunburn.
- Keep your horse cool and remove sweat after exercise by cold hosing.
- Adjust their exercise routine based on the warmer conditions.