Summertime is quickly approaching and our horse calendar is getting full. What was once a monthly activity in the colder months is now turning into every weekend during the summer. The good part is our horses are fit, their colors are vibrant and coats are shed out and slick. Everything is gearing towards a successful summer with our equine partners. However, there are potential risks that accompany warmer weather we should be aware of.
When dealing with higher temperatures and exercising equine athletes, proper hydration is crucial. Horses get hot and display more external signs of increased core temperature during summer activities. They sweat more rapidly and increase their rate of respiration. These are natural mechanisms your horse uses keeps cool and maintain a constant temperature range so that normal function of tissues like muscles, nerves, and numerous organ systems can continue to work. Water is the most important ingredient necessary in the assistance of this thermo-regulatory mechanism. Electrolytes play a key role in hydration as well. They provide the necessary chemicals and ions in every tissue to support normal actions. If they get over-depleted or out of balance for any reason (too much sweating, dehydration, unbalanced intake or depleted intake) the response can be devastating to your horse.
Horses over-heating can become a serious issue as well, especially in certain regions. Horses experience over-heating when their activity level exceeds their ability to thermo-regulate. It’s most common in racehorses that compete in hot, humid environmental conditions, but can occur in other equine athletes as well. Endurance horses as well as horses that are forced to do too much activity in extremely hot conditions during a short period of time are at risk for over-heating as well.
Both dehydrations and over-heating can result in Anhidrosis or “non-sweating.” This condition occurs most commonly in constant hot, humid environments when the sweating mechanism becomes exhausted due to a combination of all of the activities previously mentioned. Typically the horse starts showing a dull, dry coat and then it becomes apparent when they have little or no sweat on their neck or flank, even during stressful activities in the heat. These horses pant almost immediately when any exercise is performed in hot weather and their rectal temperature exceeds 104°.
Prevention is always safest during these hot summer months. Proper hydration can be accomplished by offering a regular supply of clean, fresh water to your horse throughout the extreme heat. Taking regular breaks, and pulling the tack off of your horse and letting him have plenty of water during long rides can be just enough to allow your ride to be fulfilling and uneventful. Electrolytes can be supplemented, either during hot weather or year round, depending on your horses’ needs.
If your horse does become overwhelmed by overheating, they will display signs of excessive sweating, rapid, shallow breathing and weakness possibly to the point of stumbling or staggering. This is an emergency situation that requires prompt action. Remove tack and equipment immediately from your horse. Putting cold water over his entire body will lower the temperature rapidly. Introduce water to your horse for consumption in small increments. It can take a week or more for your horse to return back to normal. Since this can be a tremendous shock to several organs, it is important to remain very patient and wait until they are completely back to normal before an exercise or heat exposure. If Anhydrosis occurs, this potential long-term situation can require a lot of management on your part and little or no activity for your horse during extremely hot weather. Some horses will require a fan or mister throughout the summer months along with electrolyte supplementation.
With all the added activities in the warm months, it is easy to get expectations high of our horses, but remember these key summer tips, and you will have a safe and cool summer to enjoy your horses!
-Dr. Steven Allday, DVM, Equine Veterinarian and Developer of LubriSynHA Family of Products