Help horses keep their cool | Living the Country Life

Help horses keep their cool

As the weather heats up, so do the chances your horses may fall victim to heat stress.
  • When does heat stress occur?

    Under normal conditions, horses can cool themselves by sweating. They are the only mammals other than humans who sweat. Once the temperature reaches 105 degrees F., or the sum of the air temperature and the humidity reaches or goes beyond 150, however, they need help cooling off.

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: June 9, 2017
  • What are the symptoms?

    Overheating can result in cramps, heatstroke, collapse, and even death in severe cases. They may pant, and have increased heart and respiratory rates. Internally, when heat-related stress occurs, horses' normal water and electrolyte balance is disrupted. As a result, they may exhibit reduced skin elasticity, shortened capillary refill time, anhidrosis (failure of the sweat glands), colic, and hyperthermia.

    "Do the skin pinch test to check your horse's hydration," says Dr. Glennon Mays of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Test for dehydration by pinching the skin along the horse's neck. The skin should snap back quickly. If the pinched area collapses slowly the horse is dehydrated.

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: June 9, 2017
  • How can you prevent heat stress?

    Iowa State University Extension Livestock Specialist Carl Neifert recommends doing the following:

    • Limit riding or transporting to early morning and late evening.
    • Provide ventilation for stalled horses
    • Use fans in barns and stalls
    • Clip long hair
    • Provide plenty of fresh water
    • Use electrolytes in feed

    • Also, avoid prolonged exposure to the sun, use lighter tack in the summer, and make sure your horse isn't overweight.
    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: June 9, 2017
  • What if your horse is overheated?

    Call a veterinarian and take immediate action if your horse has elevated respiration or pulse (in an inactive horse), body temperature above 103 degrees F., or irregular heart beat. While waiting for the vet to arrive, remove the saddle and any tack on the horse. Give him water to drink.

    "Move the horse to a shady area or to a cool, well-ventilated barn. Then spray with cool water and place ice packs on the horse's head and large blood vessels on the neck and the inside of its legs," says Mays. "Be careful to not spray the horse's face or get water in its ears; just sponge these areas gently."

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: June 9, 2017
  • What NOT to believe

    According to Dr. Kevin Kline of the University of Illinois Extension, there are some misguided ideas out there when it comes to cooling off an overheated horse.
    Never let a horse drink more than a few swallows of water at a time: Although allowing unrestricted amounts of water can lead to colic, a horse's stomach can hold between two and four gallons of fluid without becoming distended, Kline says.
    Never put ice-cold water on a hot horse: It was once believed this would shock the horse's thermoregulatory system into shutting down blood flow to the skin. Kline says it actually helps dissipate heat by providing water to evaporate from the skin and conducting the horse's body heat into the water.

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: June 9, 2017
  • More misnomers

    Never let a hot horse cool off without a blanket or sheet: Kline says covering a hot horse may severely limit its ability to return its body temperature to normal.
    Never let a hot horse go in a drafty area: Especially with dark horses, moving air helps them stabilize and lower their body temperatures.

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: June 9, 2017

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