Keeping horses safe in high heat
With record-high heat indexes across the country, horse owners should take precautions to keep their animals safe. Most horses adapt reasonably well to high temperatures, but when combined with high humidity the situation can quickly become dangerous and even life-threatening.
Here are some areas to consider to keep horses safe during hot, humid days.
Water is an essential nutrient that horses need in order to perform several life-supporting functions, including digestion and thermoregulation. It is vital that horses have access to good quality, clean and palatable water at all times.
On average, a 1,100-pound horse should consume 4-9 gallons of water per day. This amount can vary depending on amount and quality of feed consumed, temperature and humidity, overall health and physiological state.
Several circumstances can lead to water deficiency in horses, including lack of water offered, unpalatable taste and loss of thirst due to exhaustion.
If a horse does become dehydrated, offer water in small monitored amounts and record intake levels. During the watering intervals mix electrolytes into the animals’ feed.
“If you don’t have electrolytes on hand there is a simple homemade remedy that will work as well. Mix one tablespoon of black strap molasses with one tablespoon of unprocessed sea salt. Avoid mixing this with sugary sweet feeds in hot weather. It heats the horse up and adds to summer fly issues,” said Dr. Laurie Lawrence, Equine nutritionist at the University of Kentucky.
If the horse is still not drinking and suffers from a loss of appetite, call a veterinarian to perform a general health exam.
Horses usually can cool themselves easier when shade is involved. If the resources are available for the horse to be inside a well-ventilated barn during the heat of the day, by all means keep the animals inside. If this is not an option, try to pasture horses where they can receive shade from trees or shelters.
If horses have to stand in the hottest heat of the day, they can suffer from heat exhaustion, which can turn into a life-threating situation. Placing a fly mask on the horse can also help when trying to avoid heat exhaustion and sunburn, especially if the animal has a white face.
Not only does shade offer horses a chance to respire, but it provides a way to ward off insects. With high temperatures, come high insect populations.
If there is no shade available and the animal begins to show signs of overheating (breathing rapidly, rapid pulse, lethargy, depression) hose the animal off with water and use a fan to cool it down This gives the animal a chance to cool down and regain strength from the exhaustion that they may be suffering from.
Feeding a horse large amounts of feed during the middle of the day can lead to problems. Feed creates heat as it is being digested, naturally heating the animal’s body temperature. If an animal is able to escape the heat inside of a barn, the lack of movement will also make digestion more difficult for the animal.
“If you are to wet your horse’s feed this will help with digestion,” explained Dr. Frederick Harper, Extension Horse Specialist at the University of Tennessee.
If horses are used to gather cattle, or the animal is preparing for a competition, make sure workout times are scheduled when it is cool.
“It only takes 17 minutes of moderate intensity exercise in hot, humid weather to raise a horse’s temperature to dangerous levels. That’s three to 10 times faster than in humans. Horses feel the heat much worse than we do,” explained Michael Lindinger, Ph.D., M.S., an animal and exercise physiologist at the University of Guelph.
The heat has only begun. Be smart when it comes to horse management in order to optimize horse health.