If the weather changes suddenly your horse/pony will not be acclimatised and can be at greater risk of heat exhaustion/heat stroke.
Training and Competing Advice
If your horse/pony has to compete in the hottest part of the day, you need to train for around 2 weeks in the hottest part of the day to acclimatise them.
If you are travelling in a period of hot weather, leave very early in the cooler part of the day or late evening as in stationary traffic the inside of a horsebox can become unbearable in a very short time.
Provide water at all times, including up until warming-up/competing.
If your horse/pony is sweating during training then you should be adding a balanced electrolyte to their daily feeds.
Don’t expect your horse/pony to be able to perform as well in hot weather. Even with acclimatisation, your horse/ponies capacity for exercise will be reduced.
When warming up, plan to reduce the amount of time you warm-up and split this into 2 or 3 shorter sessions, possibly with cooling in between if necessary and offer water to drink.
Allow horses/ponies to drink as much as they want immediately after exercise. Cool water (around 20°C/68°F) will be preferable to warm (above 30°C/86°F) or cold (less than 10°C/50°F).
Horses that are very hot are hot to touch, may be covered in sweat, may have prominent veins on the skin, be blowing (laboured deep breathing), have flared nostrils and may be depressed or overly excited and unsteady on their feet (ataxic). These horses need rapid cooling!
Rapid cooling should be done by covering as much of the horses body with as much cool (15-25°C/59°F-77°F) or cold (<15°C/59°F) water as quickly as possible without stopping to scrape. This should be done for at least several minutes. If the horse is agitated or appears to be recovering the horse can then be given a short walk before another period of several minutes of intensive cooling. This should be continued until the horse’s blowing (deep/laboured breathing) has subsided and or the horse appears more comfortable. This may take 10-15min.
If shade and or fans are available these can be used but water cooling over the horse is the priority. DO NOT rely on cooling blankets/rugs, evaporative coolers or fans as the main means of cooling. These provide comfort but NOT rapid cooling. Ice packs placed over large veins are ineffective at cooling.
Cooling rapidly DOES NOT increase the risk of colic, muscle damage, kidney damage, laminitis of any other health issues.
Older horses, younger horses, horses with health issues such as asthma or cardiac disease, cushings, colic prone, heavy/large horses, dark horses and overweight horses do not cope as well in hot weather.
If your horse is uncomfortable in hot weather in the stable or field then spraying them down and leaving the water to evaporate will help keep them cool and can be done every few hours. I promise your horse WILL NOT overheat due to insulation by water – this is 100% a myth!
Heat Stroke / Heat Exhaustion
Signs that your horse may be suffering from the heat include:
- Panting (faster shallow breathing)
- Nostril flaring
- Increased rectal temperature
- Decreased appetite and thirst
- Dark urine
- Reduced urination
- Reduced performance
- Dark mucous membranes
- Muscle spasms
- “Thumps” (synchronous diaphragmatic flutter)
- Abnormal (irregular) heart rhythm
- Slow recovery after exercise
This is often referred to as heat exhaustion, but if not managed properly and quickly can progress to heat stroke. This may include ataxia (being unsteady on the feet) and/or collapse.
If your horse does go down then continue to cool it aggressively and send for a vet! If you are concerned that your horse may have severe heat stroke then it’s important that you seek veterinary advice as soon as possible.
- Article – Health Warning! Advice to keep you and your horse safe in warm or hot weather
- Article – What’s the Best Method to Cool a Hot Horse?
- Video – Cooling and scraping and its effect on a horse’s surface temperature
- News Video – Training For Tokyo – Cooling by Dr David Marlin
- Article – Managing and Feeding Horses to Maintain Health in Hot & Humid Weather
- Research Paper PrePrint – Evaluation of the Cooling Efficacy of Different Equine Leg Cooling Methods