Christine Skelly, Ph.D., Michigan State University Extension Equine Specialist
Revised July 2021, Originally Published July 2016
Much of America will be experiencing record high temperatures in the next few weeks. Horses can succumb to heat stress, especially if they are older, overweight or have a compromised respiratory system. Keep your horse safe during the heatwave by following these tips:
Tip #1: Provide fresh cool water continuously and ensure your horse has adequate dietary salt. Even a resting horse will sweat to cool off. Horses need plenty of fresh water and salt to balance their electrolytes and stay hydrated.
Providing fresh water and salt will help keep your horses hydrated and healthy during the summer months. A salt block should be made available to horses on pasture. Source: Christine Skelly
Tip #2: Provide good ventilation with shade during the hot part of the day. Horses turned out should have access to shade, either from trees or an open shed. If you don’t have a shady spot in your paddock, consider turning your horse out at night. Fans may help increase airflow in a barn with poor ventilation.
Horses need shade during the heat of the day and to escape biting bugs during dawn and dusk in the summer. Source: Christine Skelly Tip #3: Exercise your horse in the coolest part of the day. Work your horse and do barn chores either in the early morning or late evening to help keep both you and your horse safe from the heat. Riding in a well-ventilated covered arena can also reduce heat exposure. Exercising in the heat is much harder on the horse, so remember to decrease both the intensity and duration of your workouts.
Tip #4: Allow for a longer cool down period. It takes horses longer to cool down from a workout in hot temperatures. In addition, horses need exposed skin to take advantage of evaporative heat loss. Let the horse cool down in a shady area with a breeze. Be sure to remove the horse’s tack and leg protection during the cool down period for a faster recovery. Hosing or sponging the horse off with water will help bring the horse’s core temperature down quicker. No need to scrape! Let the cooling water do the work for both you and your horse.
Remove all tack and leg protection when cooling down your horse. Source: Christine Skelly
Tip #5: Watch for signs of heat stress in your horse, including:
Rapid respiratory rate or labored breathing
High rectal temperature at rest
Unusual sweating response (too much or too little sweat)
If your horse is showing signs of heat stress, move the horse to a cool, shady spot and run water over the horse. Offer the horse water as it cools down. Call your veterinarian for supportive care and evaluation. There may be an underlying health condition that is making your horse more susceptible to heat stress.
This article was originally published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit https://extension.msu.edu. To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, visit https://extension.msu.edu/newsletters. To contact an expert in your area, visit https://extension.msu.edu/experts, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).