Extreme hot weather and high humidity can present many challenges for horse owners, who must provide extra care during hot weather to decrease stress and maintain the health and well-being of the horse.
Fortunately, horses can acclimate to hot and humid environments.
Horses have the ability to cool themselves by sweating. Evaporation of sweat from the skin surface has a cooling effect. A horse that is working hard in a hot environment can lose two to four gallons of sweat per hour. Less evaporation occurs during times of high humidity.
The most ideal temperatures for horses are estimated to be from about 40 to 77 degrees. While not much is known about the impact above the upper critical temperature on increase feed intake and extra calories, metabolic changes in nutrient utilization do occur. In addition, heat stress has a negative impact on feed intake, and most horses will not voluntarily consume as much feedstuffs on hot days, similar to other livestock and humans. If the change in feed intake causes body condition or weight loss, contact a veterinarian for assistance.
To help reduce the effects of heat and keep horses comfortable:
Provide turnout during cooler times of the day.
Provide relief from the sun through access to shade from trees or buildings.
Watch for signs of sunburn.
Fans help to improve airflow; be sure to keep cords and plugs out of the horses’ reach.
Ensure access to clean, cool water at all times. Depending on feed, an adult horse in a cool climate will normally drink 6 to 10 gallons of water each day while at rest, and much more while working or in hot conditions.
Free choice access to salt will encourage drinking.
Reduce riding intensity and length.
Clip horses with long hair coats (i.e. horses with Cushing’s disease) to enhance cooling.
Transport horses during the coolest part of the day. Ensure that trailers are well ventilated and offer water frequently. Do not park in direct sunlight with horses inside.
To cool an overheated horse (rectal temperature exceeding 103 degrees), spray or sponge the horse’s head, back, neck, rump and legs with cool water and immediately scrape the water off, repeating continuously until the horse is cool. This is an effective cooling method because heat is transferred from the horse’s muscles and skin to the water, which is then removed to cool the horse. It is critical to scrape the warmed water off immediately, or the water may serve as insulation and might actually increase the horse’s body temperature.
Finally, do not place a sheet or blanket on the horse while trying to cool it. Blanketing will block the evaporation of water from the skin and is not recommended during hot and humid conditions.
A horse’s stomach can hold between two and four gallons of fluid without becoming excessively distended. Allowing a hot horse a few swallows of cool, clean fresh water every few minutes is necessary to combat the effects of heat stress. Fans work to increase evaporation and speed the cooling process.
So with more hot temperatures in the forecast, keep an eye on your horses to ensure their comfort and safety.
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