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Horse Safety in High Temperatures by Dr Cesar Parra

As a responsible horse owner, it’s important to understand the effects different climates can have on a horse. As we enter summer, our horses become vulnerable to the most common ailment these animals experience: heat exhaustion. It is crucial that riders, keepers, and trainers all know the warning signs of heat exhaustion as well as how to effectively prevent it.

Travel Safety

When traveling with horses, it is important to know that horses simply cannot be stuck in traffic. Traffic jams can be times of intense stress for the horse and also can be a time of high heat in the summer. Leaving in the early and late hours of the day can be a great way to travel in normal temperatures and also avoid traffic. Some more advanced horse trailers may have air conditioning installed, but it is still smart to avoid traffic jams at all costs.

Adaptation

The next thing that can be done to assure your horses health involves acclimating the horse to temperature changes over time. Gradually exposing the horse to exercise in warmer temperatures over a two week period is the most safe and effective way to acclimatize them. Focus on the cooler parts of the day to begin, this is usually the morning and night. Then gradually work into the regular hours of each day where the temperature is most extreme. The horse will be able to adapt to the temperatures this way and will also feel less stressed.

Hydration

In times of high heat, allow the horse to always have access to clean water. This will allow the horse to stay hydrated and also aid in the regulation of the horse’s body temperature. Be sure to have extra buckets of clean water on standby because it is very common for horses to drink excessive amounts of water in times of high heat. The common myth is that cold water can harm horses, but this is completely false; it just may be harder to drink at a fast rate.

Regulation

If a horse is getting overheated it is actually fairly easy to cool them down and regulate their body temperature. Simply dump cold water all over the horse’s body. Focus on getting the water spread all over the body, especially under the saddle.

Warning Signs of Heat Exhaustion in Horses

Always be able to identify the warning signs of heat exhaustion, so in the event that it does happen, appropriate measures can be taken.

You should keep an eye out for:

  • Fast Shallow Breathing
  • Flaring of the Nostrils
  • Dark and Reduced Urine
  • Muscle Spasms
  • Irregular Heart Rhythm
  • Long Recovery Times after Workouts
  • Lethargic Demeanor
  • Raised Rectal Temperature
  • Stumbling
  • Rapid Pulse
  • Excessive sweating and salivation

Avoiding heat exhaustion should always be of utmost importance. In the event that a horse does start to experience heat exhaustion, aggressively cool down the horse and call a nearby vet immediately.