Summer is a magical time of year for you and your horse. Whether you are competing, conditioning, or trail riding, you and your horse spend plenty of time together. This means your horse is frequently exposed to the hot weather and summer is the time of year many horses are prone to severe heat-related stress. Heat stress occurs when a horse loses a large amount of fluid and electrolytes over an extended period of time. Below is some information about heat stress to help you better manage the care of your horses in the hot summer months:

What are the symptoms of heat stress?

  • Reduced skin elasticity
  • Slow capillary refill
  • Failure to sweat
  • Colic
  • Hypothermia
  • Thumping diaphragm
  • Stiff gait
  • Fatigue

Approximately 75% of the energy your horse your horse releases during work is heat energy. This means that your horses needs to be able to properly dissipate this excess heat in the hot weather, or he will experience dangerous effects. Heat stress can cause seizures and damage to the heart, lungs, and kidneys. Some of the factors that cause heat stress include: obesity, long coats, poor conditioning, high humidity, poor ventilation, and prior episodes of heat stress.

What can I do to prevent heat stress?

  1. Water is one of the most important ways to prevent heat stress. Your horse should always have access to clean and fresh water. Water helps your horse lower his body temperature and enables him to sweat away excess heat.
  2. Your horse also needs shade. Your pastures should have at least one shade option suitable to the number of horses you have. If you do not have any shade options, make sure you alter your turnout schedule so that your horses are out at night or early morning.
  3. Unfit horses who are subjected to intense work in the summer heat and humidity are far more likely to experience heat stress. You should properly condition your horse to manage more intense workloads so that his body is fit enough to efficiently process heat. A horse that is poorly conditioned cannot process heat well and can damage his lungs, heart, and kidneys.

My horse is displaying signs of heat stress. What should I do?

The first thing you need to do is move your horse to a shady, well-ventilated area and in front of a fan if possible. Make sure to remove any tack from his body. Use cool water from a hose to rinse his neck and body. Focus on major vessels in his neck and groin to cool him faster. Have someone continually scrape off excess water in order to remove the heat from his body. As he cools, offer him small amounts of cool water to drink. If your horse is extremely dehydrated, experiencing muscle stiffness, or neurological complications, you need to call your vet. Your horse may require intravenous fluids immediately to replace to water and electrolytes he has lost. You should allow your horse to rest for at least two days after he has experienced heat stress, as he is more likely to experience it again when it has already happened before.

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