Caring for horses in hot weather

For all the fun that an Australian summer can bring, it also presents many challenges for horses and their owners. There are many hot days still to come and soaring temperatures coupled with high humidity can take a physical toll on horses as their large muscle mass and comparatively small body surface area makes it difficult for them to cool themselves. Coupled with the potential of drought affecting water and feed supplies for horses, summer can be downright hard without the right information and preparation. This is why we’ve put together the following guide to help you and your horse face the challenges of the season so you can enjoy the summer together.
1. Stock up on feed and store well

The potential of a supply shortage of hay is a very real possibility in summer, leading to soaring prices and difficulty with sourcing good quality feed. Good preparation is key — it’s a great idea to stock up on good quality feed early while it’s still available and at a reasonable price. Make sure the hay you are buying is of a good quality and consider buying it in round bales to ensure that you have a constant supply of roughage. Keeping it stored in an undercover area will help ensure that it’s not affected by the weather and keep it fresh for longer.

You can also keep a stock of high fibre pelleted alternatives to supplement the diet if the need arises. If possible, feed your horse using a trough or feed bin to reduce the risk of them ingesting sand and dirt which can lead to serious conditions such as colic.

2. Check for signs of heatstroke

As temperatures rise, so do the risks of your horse experiencing heatstroke —a potentially life-threatening condition that develops when a horse is unable to cool himself by sweating. Any horse can be affected, but horses that are overweight or out of condition are at most risk.

Make sure you check your horse regularly, especially after riding, and if your horse is rugged.
Signs of heatstroke to look out for are:
• Profuse sweating or no longer sweating (for extreme heatstroke)
• High respiration rate (above 20 breaths/min)
• Rapid heart rate (above 50 beats/min)
• Dry, hot skin that won’t return when pinched
• High rectal temperature (above 38?C)
• Lethargy or distress.

If any of these symptoms are present, provide your horse with water and shade immediately and seek advice from a vet.

3. Ensure continuous access to fresh water
You know how important it is to ensure your horse has constant access to fresh water. However, water sources such as ponds, streams or dams can dry out quickly during the summer heat, so it’s vital to check water levels daily and to provide your horse with at least two sources of fresh water. Providing a salt block can be an effective way to make sure your horse replaces lost electrolytes.
4. Provide plenty of shade
It’s important to make sure your horse has access to plenty of shade throughout the day to escape the sweltering summer heat. While trees provide shade, remember that as the sun moves, so will the shade, so it’s best to provide a run-shed that your horse can go to at any time to stay cool.

5. Ride only during the cooler times of the day

The hottest part of the day in summer is between midday and 3pm so if possible try to avoid riding or working your horse between these times. When riding, make sure you do so in a shaded area, go for short rides and take frequent water breaks. On very hot days, it’s recommended that you don’t work your horse due to high water loss through sweat and over-heating.

6. Care for your horse post-ride

As horses are prone to heat stress, always make sure you cool them after a ride by hosing them down with cold water, and giving them plenty to drink. Riding in the heat can make horses sweat profusely so in addition to water, you should provide them with a salt block to replace lost electrolytes.

7. Provide protection from flies
Horses can be particularly sensitive to flies and other insects. Luckily, there are several options to keep them at bay. You can use fly catchers (either home-made or purchased), mesh summer rugs or spray insect repellent on them, focusing on their legs and face (being careful around the eye area). Well-fitted fly masks can also be useful if your horses’ eyes tend to get easily irritated by flies. Flies love to hang around piles of manure so make sure it’s removed as often as possible.

8. Only use suitable summer rugs

Some people choose to rug their horse in summer to protect them from the sun and insects. If you rug your horse it is very important to choose the right type of rug to avoid your horse overheating. It is recommended that you use a white cotton or mesh rug — not one made of heavy canvas or wool — and make sure that you check your horse daily for signs of heat stress.

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