For horse owners, summer is the best time to be out riding. The sun is shining, ground conditions are good and your horse is raring to go. But rising temperatures can pose big problems for horses. Signs of dehydration, depression and fatigue, irritability and general malaise are all symptomatic of heat stroke and it is important you are able to recognise them.
To ensure your horse is enjoying summer as much as you are, make sure you think about the following things:
- Providing shade – even if your horse chooses not to make the most of it, there should always be somewhere for him to retreat to when the sun gets too much. If your horse is turned out, a lean-to gives your horse somewhere shady and cool to escape to. A lean-to will also help keep the flies off and prevent sunburn. UV rays are damaging to horses, especially those with pink skin. Consider using sunscreen on sensitive areas like the nose or a fly sheet with UV protection.
Trees are great at providing shade (until the sun moves, at least!) and you might be lucky enough to have a paddock that is full of them. If you don’t, make sure you find an alternative solution so your horse is shielded from the sun’s midday intensity.
If possible, turn him out in the morning and bring him in later in the day when it starts hotting up. Adapting your routine to stay cool will not only benefit your horse but the quality of the pasture too, as over-grazing through summer can leave it looking sparse.
- Providing water – water is the fuel of life and we all need it for the healthy functioning of our bodies. Horses lose a lot of water every day through breathing, sweating and eliminating, and need to replace this if they are to avoid dehydration.
In summer, horses are sweating more (over 5 litres on a warm day) and working harder, so it is essential they drink lots to compensate. On an average day, a horse can consume up to 30 litres of water, although this is naturally much higher in times of stress. Bear in mind that small, frequent drinks are much better than a large intake all at once.
Ensure there is plenty of fresh drinking water in your horse’s field and stable and try taking your own buckets and water along to shows to avoid long queues at the tap. Add electrolytes to your horse’s feed and water before training, travel and competition to replace fluids lost from cells and to support the body’s essential processes.
- Consider diet – during the summer months, horses get increased turnout so consume more of the season’s lush grass. They also burn fewer calories keeping warm so minor weight gain is inevitable. Consider your horse’s workload in relation to its diet and adjust accordingly.
Throughout summer, use a weigh tape to keep track of your horse’s size as this will help you notice any changes. With weight gain comes the threat of laminitis so keep the risk to a minimum by monitoring your horse’s turnout time and condition.
- Other things to consider are the condition of your horse's feet as dry weather can mean brittle and cracked hooves; thick coats need clipping so that heat isn't held in; the quality of the air to avoid summer respiratory problems; and field management including regular poo-picking and the removal of toxic plants.
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