Caring for horses in hot weather

Providing water, shade and proper cool down after exercise can help prevent heat stress in horses.

Horses require shade and good ventilation during hot weather.
Horses require shade and good ventilation during hot weather.

Much of America will be experiencing record high temperatures in the next couple of weeks, and Michigan is no exception. Horses can succumb to heat stress, especially if they are older, overweight or have a compromised respiratory system. Keep your horse safe during the heatwave by following these tips from Michigan State University Extension:

  1. Provide fresh cool water and a trace mineral salt block to your horse continuously. Even a resting horse will sweat to cool off. Horses need plenty of fresh water and salt to balance their electrolytes and stay hydrated.
  2. Provide good ventilation with shade during the hot part of the day. Horses turned out should have access to shade, either from trees or an open shed. If you don’t have a shady spot in your paddock, consider turning your horse out at night. Fans may help increase airflow in a barn with poor ventilation.  
  3. Exercise your horse in the coolest part of the day. Work your horse and do barn chores either in the early morning or late evening to help keep both you and your horse safe from the heat. Exercising in the heat is much harder on the horse, so remember to decrease both the intensity and duration of the workout.
  4. Allow for a longer cool down period. It takes horses longer to cool down from a workout in hot temperatures. In addition, horses need exposed skin to take advantage of evaporative heat loss. Be sure to remove the horse’s tack during the cool down period for a faster recovery. Hosing or sponging the horse off with water will help bring the horse’s core temperature down quicker.
  5. Watch for signs of heat stress in your horse, including:
    • Rapid respiratory rate or labored breathing
    • High rectal temperature at rest
    • Unusual sweating response (too much or too little sweat)
    • Lethargy
    • Decreased appetite

If your horse is showing signs of heat stress, move the horse to a cool, shady spot and run water over the horse’s legs and abdomen. Call your veterinarian for supportive care and evaluation. There may be an underlying health condition that is making your horse more susceptible to heat stress.    

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