Horses and Hot Weather
I don’t know about you, but I’m not a huge fan of hot weather (though I do prefer it to freezing temps). Air conditioning truly is a wonderful thing and that’s where you’ll find me during the heat of the day. Since most of our horses probably don’t have this luxury though, it’s extremely important we do what we can to help them cope with the heat.
There’s nothing I hate seeing more than horses (or any animal for that matter) stuck in a pen or pasture without a lean-to or shade tree in sight. But stuffy barns without adequate ventilation can be just as bad. I’ll never forget attending a local clinic put on by a well known clinician where the hosting indoor arena and surrounding stalls were almost suffocatingly hot. I had to step outside to take occasional breaks, yet there were dozens of horses kept stalled in there. There’s absolutely no way I would allow my horse to live like that.
So for this week’s post, I thought I’d compile a list of facts related to horses and hot weather. Some, you may well know, while others might come as a bit of a surprise. But they’re all something to keep in mind as we enter into August, typically the hottest month of the year for many of us.
Horses and Hot Weather Facts
1.) Like us, horses cool themselves by sweating. The evaporation of sweat from skin has a cooling effect.
2.) If a horse can’t sweat because of a condition known as anhidrosis, special precautions should to be taken as this could be life threatening.
3.) Humidity keeps sweat from evaporating as quickly, and horses are more prone to overheating in humid weather (especially if being worked hard).
4.) Horses tend to eat less on hot days. Therefore, thin, young, or very old horses are at higher risk for losing weight during extended periods of hot weather.
5.) Horses can acclimate to hotter and more humid environments, but this typically takes around 2-3 weeks.
6.) The best way to cool an overheated horse is to spray or sponge him with cool water and then immediately and continuously scrape off the water to encourage evaporation. (If you don’t scrape the water off, it could actually trap heat and make things worse.)
7.) It’s more difficult for horses to digest and break down protein during hot weather. Protein amounts which exceed dietary requirements will actually increase a horse’s internal temperature as the body tries to digest it. Limit alfalfa hay and high protein feeds in the summer (or better yet, all year round–see this post for more info.) and instead provide pasture or good quality grass hay.
8.) Overweight horses have more difficulty keeping cool during hot weather than non-overweight horses.
9.) Horses should not be ridden or worked if the combined temperature plus relative humidity level meets or exceeds 150.
10.) Horses can drink twice their normal amount of water when temperatures rise above 70 degrees (F). So instead of drinking 8-10 gallons, a 1000 lb horse may drink around 16-20 gallons.
Horses and Hot Weather Tips
And here are a few tips to help keep your horse cool during hot weather:
- Provide shade in some form (trees, shed, barn, etc.).
- Provide access to clean, cool drinking water at all times.
- Free choice access to salt will encourage drinking; loose salt is preferable over blocks, but you can provide both.
- Electrolytes should be provided for horses who are worked in the heat. Add to feed or a separate water bucket (ensuring there is also plain, clean water as well).
- Clip horses with long hair cuts (such as with Cushing’s) during the summer months.
- Use fans to increase airflow in barns.
- Misting systems in barns can also make a big difference in horse’s comfort level.
Wishing you and your horses a wonderful rest of the summer!
Sources and Further Reading: