Keeping your Horse Cool on the Trail and in Camp
The optimal outdoor temperature for horses is reputed to be about 55 degrees. However, most trail riders’ horses are worked in temps exceeding this. With summer being the prime trail riding season a few thoughts on keeping you and your horses, cool are in order.
Of course the first tip is self explanatory and is simply to provide plenty of cool, clean, fresh water.
In Camp - Keep your water buckets and water storage containers out of the direct sun where it can get uncomfortably hot.
On the Trail – Stop frequently for water. As self explanatory as that seems, many riders push their mounts until the human is thirsty. Think about the work your horse is doing and give them a break and some cool water whenever you cross streams.
Secondly, if your horse has a heavy coat, clip it. A heavy coat can cause your horse to overheat and heat stroke can be a real possibility. Heavy coated breeds, such as Icelandics, can be more susceptible to heat issues than thin coated breeds such as Arabians. If you ride in an area where the thermometer drops in the evening you can cover him with a blanket at night.
Next, keep the bugs away. Insects can and will bother your horse on and off the trail. From midges, to mosquitoes, and biting flies these bothersome pests can cause your horse to work himself into a sweat instead of resting and cooling down.
In Camp - Use fly spray or wipes on your horses to keep them from being irritated by flies. Without insect repellant, a horse will stand in the sun to keep bugs away; which can contribute to overheating.
On the Trail – Again, a long lasting spray prior to your trail ride will contribute a lot to your horses’ comfort and keep him from working unnecessarily to keep biting insects away.
Take breaks. We take breaks when we’re working in hot weather, do the same for your horse.
On the Trail - Stop riding occasionally, loosen the girth, sponge your horse, and then give him a drink. When his breathing has returned to normal, start riding again.
In Camp - When you’re finished riding, walk the horse to cool him out; moving muscles dissipate heat better than resting muscles. Sponging his neck with cool water will cool both of you off.
Electrolytes replace salts lost in sweating. Similar to human sport drinks, you can put them in the horse’s feed, water, or squirt directly into their mouth. Make sure to use electrolytes made for horses as those made for other livestock may be unsuitable.
In Camp AND on the Trail - Consider using electrolytes if your horse is sweating hard, or your horse will be working hard (a long trail ride or competition). Electrolytes can be given prior to your ride.
Keep him fit. An out of condition, or overweight, horse requires more energy to move around, so he'll produce more heat. Excess fat makes it harder for him to cool down.
And, finally, take care of yourself. Your horse is counting on you. If you get overheated and tired, you may not be able to take care of him effectively. You could miss the warnings of heat stress or stroke that your horse may be showing.
Signs of heat stroke and heat stress in horses:
Weakness / staggering; reluctance to move.
Elevated respiration in an inactive horse (normal range is 4 to 16 breaths per minute).
Elevated pulse in an inactive horse, pulse that does not drop after several minutes, or climbs when exercise has stopped.
Profuse sweating or no sweating at all. Know what is normal for your horse for the type of work he’s doing.
Elevated body temperature above 103F.
Irregular heart beat or ‘thumps.’
A depressed attitude.
Dehydration. Test by watching your horse’s flanks. If they look caved in, he could be dehydrated. Also, you can pinch the skin along your horse’s neck. If the skin snaps back quickly, the horse is sufficiently hydrated. If the pinched area collapses slowly, the horse may be dehydrated.
What to do until you can get to a vet:
Use shade, cool water, or breezes as best you can. Stand your horse in a pond or stream. Sponge the large blood vessels along the inside of the legs and belly. Offer sips of water.
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