June 9, 2014
Equestrian Summer Heat Safety
Although we can all rejoice in the summer season now that it is upon us, extreme heat can be dangerous for both horses and humans. The results can lead to dehydration, fatigue, heat stress, heat stroke, and heat cramps.
Suitably enough, treatment and preventable options are paralleled between us and our four-legged mammal counterparts, so these tips can be applied to both humans and horses. For heat exhaustion and heatstroke, the horse should be sprayed with cool water and moved to a shady area or cool, well-ventilated barn. For extreme heatstroke (signs include heavy breathing, no sweat, and incoordination), ice packs should be placed on the horse’s head and large blood vessels on the inside of its legs. For heat cramps, the horse should be cooled, rubbed down, and given electrolytes. For any heat related illness, call a veterinarian because the horse may need to receive intravenous administration of fluids. Preventing these illnesses, however, is our focus. Below are the top ten actions items for beating the heat and staying cool this summer.
- Provide fresh, cool water - Make sure all horses and barn staff have access to plenty of fresh, cool water. A bucket hanging on a pasture fence will get warm and stagnant. Horses evolved from drinking cool water from rivers and streams, so can you blame them for wanting water that is fresh? Salt blocks can encourage more water drinking as well, at least for horses anyway.
- Choose cooler turnout and work times - We like to turn out as early as possible, this allows for minimal sun exposure to our herd paired with the coolest part of the day for the most intensive barn chores.
- Move the air - We use large industrial fans for the aisles and box fans on individual stalls, and we always ensure that the horses can not get a hold of, or step on cords and plugs.
- Mist your barn - We are fortunate enough to have a misting system for our barn, and it is used often. As moisture is absorbed from skin, it will take away heat, just like sweat.
- Provide shade - Trees and run in sheds work well.
- Use electrolytes - If your horse is sweating a great deal from exercise or just heat, an electrolyte supplement can help replenish the body. Sodium, potassium, calcium and chlorine are lost in the urine and sweat. Loss of electrolytes can lead to metabolic problems, a decrease in the thirst response, and loss of interest in eating and drinking.
- Slow down the work - Lighten the work load or spread it out over a couple of short sessions. This is especially important when the humidity is high, which can diminish the quality of the air your horse and handles/rider is breathing.
- Stick to a schedule - Try to stay as close as possible to a normal schedule. Too much change at one time can be an invitation for colic.
- Avoid sunburn - Horses, especially white horses, can suffer from sunburn. Even those with white socks and blazes, pink noses, or hairless patches from scarring can be susceptible. Using a fly scrim can help. In addition, applying sunblock to small, particularly vulnerable areas can be effective. Staying out of the sun’s harmful rays will, of course, be best. Also be aware: If a horse has excessive sunburn it could indicate a rare, underlying liver disease.
- Clip - Clipping is important for heat management. While some coats can provide protection from the sun and insulation, a long, thick coat tends to hold heat and makes it difficult for the horse to cool down.
The importance of preventative safety remains paramount. Daily inspections of the environment your horses live in goes a long way in preventing emergencies. We at Safety Check Inc. are trained in hazard analysis and accident prevention. For an equine safety consultation or barn walkthrough, please feel free to contact us at (815) 475-9991.
- Jenifer Nadeau, M.S., Ph.D, Heat Stress, Too Hot To Trot [Link]
- Kennth L. Marcella, DVM Heat Stress: It’s not just equine athletes at risk for heat related injuries [Link]
- Thomas R. Lenz DVM, Heat Stress in Horses [Link]