Horses might need your help staying cool in the summer months. Warm temperatures and high humidity can make it difficult for horses to dissipate the extra heat they create during exercise. A variety of simple cooling strategies can help. Don’t forget to monitor how well your horse is doing by intermittently measuring vital signs and heart rate recovery.
Remember: heat stress generally develops due to overexertion leading to overheating rather than to external heating by the sun’s rays.
As you finish your workout, slow your horse to a walk for five to 10 minutes. Hop off, remove the saddle and keep walking so blood flow continues to flush metabolic waste products and heat from his muscles.
Bathe his head, neck, armpits (behind his elbows) and legs with copious amounts of cool water. Large blood vessels in these locations flush heat to the skin surface, and repeated soaking facilitates evaporative cooling. You can sponge him while still walking him.
Continuously apply and scrape water away until the horse’s skin feels cool to touch. Don’t be tempted to drape wet towels over the head and neck and leave them in place. Towels act as an insulator, thereby limiting cooling.
Heat normally radiates from the head to keep the brain cooler than the inner core temperature of the body; increase in heat to the brain contributes to central or mental fatigue. Bathe the head as well as large blood vessels of the neck (jugular veins and carotid arteries) and legs to facilitate movement of heat out of the central body core.
Monitor rectal temperature and muscle tone as you cool out your horse. Once rectal temperature reaches 101 degrees Fahrenheit and/or the chest feels cool to touch, you can stop cooling assistance. Offer drinking water following exercise.
Shade is important to improve comfort and cooling. Find an area with good air circulation, preferably with a light breeze. Fans are helpful for convective cooling – air flowing across the horse’s body pulls heat from the skin. Periodic, short walks help muscles pump heat away from deeper tissues.
If your horse isn’t cooling down appropriately within 10-15 minutes, contact a veterinarian immediately.