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Help Your Horse Cope with Hot Weather

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

Clear blue skies, warm sunshine - it may brighten your mood but as the temperature rises it's necessary to consider the effect it may have on your horse's health.

gillian higgins horses inside out eventing cross country riding through water

Here's some advice on how your horse regulates his temperature and what you can do to help him stay cool.


Did you know that horses sweat 3-4 times more than humans?

And

Horses and humans are the only animals that sweat through the skin?


Your horse has his own in-built cooling and heating system called thermoregulation. This keeps his body temperature within a certain range. Sensitive nerves and receptors in the skin, abdomen, skeletal muscles and parts of the spinal cord send messages relating to body temperature to the hypothalamus – the thermoregulatory centre within the brain.


How your horse deals with heat


If you horse becomes too hot, through hot weather or exercise, he deals with it in 4 ways:



1. Evaporation. The is the most effective way for your horse to lose heat.

Sweat is secreted on to the skin, drawing heat from your horse as it evaporates. As the core temperature rises through either external temperature or exercise, blood flow to the skin increases. About 60% of heat carried in the blood is transferred to sweat and is subsequently lost as the moisture evaporates from the surface of the skin and thereby lowering body temperature.



The cooling effect of sweating is greatly reduced when it’s humid – this is when the atmospheric moisture reduces the efficiency of evaporation. In these conditions you must cool your horse down quickly with large amounts of cold water.


2. Convection. Air that passes over your horse’s body is heated by the skin and rises, this is replaced by cooler air – particularly if there is a breeze.


3. Radiation. Capillaries under the skin widen in a process known as vasodilation – this is when more blood transfers into the dermal regions. Some heat is then lost into the atmosphere.


Learn more about vasodilation, the circulatory system and vasodilation HERE.






4. Conduction. This is the transfer of heat from the body to cooler water, or to the ground if your horse is lying down. The cooler the water the more effectively conduction removes heat.






The role of electrolytes

When your horse sweats he will lose electrolytes and need to be replaced. His body fluid balance is carefully controlled by electrolytes – these manage the movement of water into and out of cells and in maintaining homeostasis – the transmission of nerve impulses, the healthy function of muscles, and the circulatory system.

gillian higgins horses inside out cantering across field cross country eventing

Electrolytes are lost:

  • During training – sweating begins after 10 minutes of exercise.

  • In high temperatures and high humidity. You horse can lose 10-15 litres per hour!

  • Travelling long distances.

  • In urine.


Maintaining a healthy electrolyte balance

  • Make sure fresh water is available at all times.

  • Add electrolytes to feed.

  • Give your horse access to a salt lick. Sodium chloride (common table salt) is the most important electrolyte.


A deficiency in electrolytes can lead to:

  • Dehydration

  • Tying up

  • Fatigue

  • Lethargy

  • Constipation

  • Drop in performance


Top tips to help your horse in hot weather


gillian higgins horses inside out hosing down washing off paint

Most horses will cope with hot weather but older horses or those with health conditions may not.

  1. Bring your horse in out of the sun if he doesn’t have access to shade in his field. Brick or stone stables tend to be cooler whereas wooden stable can get very hot.

  2. Avoid exercising during the hottest part of the day – ride first thing in the morning or late evening.

  3. Make sure your horse always has access to clean water.

  4. If your horse is stressed by the heat hose him off – it doesn’t have to be ice cold but it’s important to apply a lot of water to cool effectively. Allow your horse to dry naturally – DON’T scrape off the water. This can be done three or four times a day.

  5. If your horse is on box rest consider getting him fan for his stable.

  6. Learn to recognise the signs of heat exhaustion – very hot to touch, sweating all over, a lack of interest in his surroundings, unsteady on his feet, and/or deep and laboured breathing. If you’re in any doubt, cool your horse down by hosing him continuously all over his body until his breathing returns to normal.

This article contains extracts from Gillian's books Horse Anatomy for Performance and How Your Horse Moves




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Truly enjoy reading your blog on tips of hot weather and the effects it has on your horse (s) was very helpful to me. I know sweating is a good thing for them to do, yet I get concerned when I see them totally wet all over from sweat especially when it hot, from temperature in the high 90's... I wonder what can I do to help them feel better or be cooler... the stable that I lease is made of sheet aluminum or some type of barn type metal....sometimes it seems to be cooler so I'll let the horses stay in the stall, yet they still sweat and be wet from sweat all over.. I've put in fans a…


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