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Beat Summer Heat for Horses

How to Protect Your Horse

     Horses, while very adaptable to heat and cold, still are susceptible to heat exhaustion and stroke, especially in areas where high humidity combines with warm, sunny days. Horses cool themselves mainly by sweating. Making sure that they have access to cool, clean water all day, (especially during the hottest hours), along with some shade, will prevent problems for most horses. Access to salt is important, as this is a nutrient that they can self-regulate intake.
   Salt can be provided in the block form, or in rock salt (doesn't blow away) or fine, like table salt. Blocks are probably the least efficient delivery. Most horses give up licking them before consuming enough.The rock or granulated is easier to consume, but has the disadvantage of getting dumped if not in a secure container. Simply adding salt to the feed is not the best choice, as needs vary and horses know when they don't need it, you may not.
   Obviously, if your horse is obese, summer will be much harder on him. Try to avoid working your horse in the hottest part of the day, if possible. If not, just remember not to push too hard, with plenty of chances to stop and rest or at least slow to walk, and offer water. It's a myth that cold water will cause laminitis.  There is such a thing as mechanical founder from excess work, and for that, you would likely be pushing your horse to the point of dehydration that would cause tummy troubles which cause can laminitis Let your horse drink if he's thirsty. Withholding water will only dehydrate him, and horses that aren't allowed to drink their fill take much longer to "rehydrate" if only offered sips than if allowed to drink all they want.
   Electrolytes can be added in the water, like a horsey "gatorade". They replace other salts that are sweat out in exertion or diarrhea If your horse has had the runs, or has been sweating profusely, then electrolytes can help. Just don't feed them as a regular supplement. Also, in a pinch, if your horse is refusing water (because it's from a new source or he's becoming dehydrated), the flavoring of the electrolytes may entice him to drink.
   After a  ride, hosing off with cool water will help bring his temperature back to normal. Even just a wet brush over the large muscle groups will cool him off faster (and is a good reward for a job well-done). Use a sweat scraper to remove excess and you're done. Some liniment or "brace" can be added to the water you put on the horse, to help speed cooling. The alcohol in liniments speed evaporation of water, and the evaporation is what causes the actual cooling sensation. Another way to cool him, is to roll ice or frozen peas up in a towel and apply to the throat-latch area on his neck. This cools the blood in the jugular veins.

 Symptoms of Dehydration

    Dehydration will cause a higher body temperature (exercise can do that, too, of course). The skin will become less elastic and the eyes start to appear to sink into the skull. A pinch test will help prove it-Grab a fold of skin on the shoulder/neck. Let go, if it is slow to return to normal, more than 15 seconds or doesn't return to normal on it's own,  then your horse is probably dehydrated. Allowing your horse to be mildly dehydrated can also contribute to colic, as the body first draws moisture from the digestive tract to more important organs. A good reason to feed more hay, as a belly full of hay will hold more moisture, if the horse is allowed to drink his fill before a ride. *
   Signs of heat exhaustion (hyperthermia) is excessive body temperature due to overexertion, hot, humid weather, and poor ventilation in trailers/barns. Signs would be high pulse, temperature of 105-108 degrees F. In heat stroke, the rectal temp can reach 115degrees!!!     Muscular weakness and reduced appetite, seemingly depressed attitude are danger signs. CALL THE VET! and start hosing the horse to cool him off, and offer water!  He will likely need an IV and his organs could be damaged.

Pinching the skin on the neck
Skin remained tented indicating dehydration


  • Feed a high fiber diet- bellies full of hay retain more water and keep the horse hydrated longer
  • Free choice salt and water, especially in summer months
  • Know signs of heat stroke, such as higher rectal temp, "panting" breaths and depressed appetite
  • Drinking cold water while hot does NOT induce laminitis. Withholding water only increases chances of colic and dehydration.
  • Provide shade and try avoid working in the hottest part of the day
  • If you must work during the peak heat, offer frequent breaks with opportunities to drink