Some riding academies and programs set a heat index guideline for their horses, and you could do the same for your horse given his condition. The United States Pony Club recommends that a horse not be worked at all when the heat index is 180 or higher. Exercise caution working in a heat index of 150 to 180. If you're a pleasure rider on an older horse, you may want to stick to walking only at a heat index of 140.
Like us, horses perspire to cool themselves. As perspiration dries, the horse becomes cooler. This process is why horses-and riders-have a difficult time cooling down when the humidity level is high. The moisture in the air prevents sweat from drying. But horses, with their large muscle masses, struggle even more than we do to cool down in high humidity. In an effort to cool himself, a horse will continue to perspire more, and the cycle continues unless you intervene. In severe cases, a horse can become overheated and a veterinarian may need to be called.
To help your horse cool down after your hot weather ride, sponge or hose him with water while scraping him off with a sweat scraper [constantly. Continue the process until the water that comes off your horse is normal temperature (meaning the horse is not staying so hot as to heat the water). Scrape excess water from your horse and then walk him until he is dry rather than stabling him while wet. Doing so could cause your horse to heat up again in the confined space as the water tries to evaporate. Wet legs also set up conditions for the skin ailment known as scratches to develop. If your horse's legs are still damp after walking, be sure to dry them with a towel.
Coolers and anti-sweat sheets aren't appropriate to use in hot weather as they can prevent a horse from cooling off; they're designed to help a horse cool down without getting chilled during cold weather.
Provide plenty of fresh, clean water to entice your horse to drink. Horses like water that is cool, and are not naturally attracted to water that sits in the sun where it can become too hot to be appealing. Watch for signs of dehydration in your horse using the pinch test and more reliable capillary refill time. (See How to Use Equine Vital Signs.)
Horses lose salt through perspiration. If your horse works (and sweats) heavily in summer, speak with your veterinarian or your trainer about whether your horse should receive an electrolyte mixture or one or two ounces of salt added to his grain. Himalayan Rock Salt Granules are easy to add to a mealtime, if needed. Always provide a free choice salt block, though for some horses in heavy training this salt source may not provide enough salts to replenish the lost supply. Himalayan salt licks are the most popular, but you can choose from a variety of forms-plain or with minerals-according to your horse's preference and needs.
Other things that you can do to keep your horse happy in his summer work include riding early in the morning, before the heat and humidity of a summer day settles in like a blanket. If you have to truck your horse anywhere, again try to do so in cooler hours of the day. Remember that a traffic jam can literally be dangerous for your horse as the trailer can heat up rapidly at a standstill on hot pavement.
Dress your horse in a light-colored saddle pad that reflects sunlight, just as you wear light-colored clothing yourself. Saddle pads with wicking properties that move moisture away from your horse's skin can help him feel more comfortable. Consider the Rambo Newmarket Handy Saddle Pad with cool-dry lining, and the Rider's Waffle Flo Pad, which is highly breathable.
Because your horse will sweat more heavily in summer, wash your saddle pads frequently, if not after every ride. Washing will help your pads maintain their loft and cushioning for a soft and healthy surface against your horse's skin. Clean saddle pads also help to preserve the leather of your saddle by minimizing its exposure the drying salts resulting from sweat.
If your horse wears protective boots, consider choosing some that are designed with ventilation to prevent the buildup of excessive heat. For example, boot from Dalmar, such as the Dalmar Eventer Boots, feature a patented cooling system that uses high speed cold air hitting the front of the horses' leg to pass through the boot and cool the horse's tendons while galloping.
Spray your horse with fly repellant. It will help fight off flies that could cause your horse to stomp or worse, pace or run to escape them, which in turn could cause him to overheat. If your horse wears a fly sheet, monitor his comfort level in it against the heat index. Some horses do just fine in fly sheets at any temperature and humidity level, but others become hot and sweaty at higher temperatures.
Lastly, to protect the most delicate areas of your horse's face, apply waterproof sun block or zinc oxide to any places with white hair or exposed pink skin. Sunscreens designed specifically for horses include Healthy Haircare Sunscreen and Quic Screen Sunscreen.
For more assistance or to request a catalog, call 1-800-989-1500 to speak with a Dover Saddlery product advisor, or stop by any of our retail stores. Visit DoverSaddlery.com for a complete store listing and the full product offering.
How to Use Equine Vital Signs
Tips for Trailering