During hot seasons, horses should be provided with extra care to ensure that they remain comfortable. Also, their stress levels, health and wellbeing should be managed properly. Since horses are ridden or made to work outdoors, their body temperature naturally increases. If the environment temperature is also high, such as during the summer, the horse’s body may not be able to expel all of its heat properly, resulting in discomfort and potential health risks if not treated. Therefore, horse owners are expected to provide the relevant care for horses during periods of high temperature and humidity and keep their health in check. Horses lose temperature by sweating. The relative humidity of the environment has a direct impact on the speed at which sweat evaporates and cools down the body. If the temperature and humidity are both high, and appropriate care is not given, the horse may overheat which can be potentially life threatening. In addition to the high heat and humidity, horses can overheat due to a myriad of other factors including obesity, excessive work, poor ventilation in the barn or shelter, and prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. Although humans can adapt to hotter environments by wearing different clothes and maybe a pair of gidgee eyes, horses take a while to be acclimated to the weather and even then, requires special care, as detailed in this article.
Heat Stress and Heatstroke
Heat stress is a condition where the horse develops high stress due to the temperature, which makes them uncomfortable. The signs of heat stress include rapid breathing, increased sweating, tiredness, dehydration, droopy ears, and bodyweight loss (due to metabolism changes due to the weather as well as changes in feeding habits). Heatstroke is a more severe problem and is signified by extreme distress to the horse, muscle weakness, incoordination, or collapse. If untreated, this can become fatal.
Horses working in hot weather should have access to ample water. Horses sweat more during work and due to the weather and can lose several gallons of water per hour. This would result in dehydration if this water were not replaced.
Shade should also be provided to the horses when resting, and the shelter should be well ventilated. The ventilation ensures that the relative humidity of the surrounding does not get too high which would slow down the body’s natural cooling process. Staying out of direct sunlight is also key when resting to ensure they do not overheat.
Limiting the work performed during hotter days is also important. Horses may not be able to work at the same capacity as with regular weather due to the inefficient cooling while in hot weather.
If a horse does overheat, attempt to cool it down by spraying water on its back, rump, head, neck, and legs. A continuous stream of water should be sprayed until the horse is no longer overheated. Ice water may be used to accelerate the process and it poses no harm to the horse. Then allow the water to evaporate off the skin of the horse, cooling it further.