Help your horse beat the heat

Here are 3 simple ways to keep your horse comfortable on hot summer days.

Horses are built to conserve heat and they aren’t particularly good at regulating their body temperatures, which means they can quickly go from “hot” to “overheated.” Here are some simple ways to keep him comfortable even on the hottest summer days.

A horse standing with his head lowered in the shade of a run-in shed
Horses have a knack for finding the coolest place in a pasture or run-in shed.

• Make sure he has access to shade. Your run-in shed need to be large enough to accommodate your whole herd—and that dominant horses aren’t keeping others out. You may find that a second shelter is necessary to give each horse the opportunity to get out of the heat. The best sheds are deep enough to provide shade even as the sun moves across the sky.

Horses have a knack for finding the most comfortable location in a pasture on a hot day, whether in a run-in shed or under a stand of trees, so give them several shady options and trust their instincts. If you choose to leave a horse in his stall during the day, make sure the barn is properly ventilated with an adequate cross breeze; otherwise it will simply be a hot and stuffy space that he can’t escape.

Click here to learn how the seasons affect “marish” behavior. 

• Set up an agricultural-grade fan. Providing a refreshing breeze while helping to keep insects at bay with a fan. Many horses will learn to stand directly in the airflow of a fan, maximizing its benefit. Be careful, however, when choosing your fans. For example, avoid box fans designed for home use. They are unsafe for the dusty barn environment they can easily short out and cause a barn fire. Instead, invest in agricultural-grade fans and mount them securely, out of reach of curious horses. In addition to individual stall fans, large floor fans—again designed for agricultural spaces—placed at the end of aisleways can keep air circulating through the building.

• If you believe your horse has heat stress, act quickly. A horse’s normal body temperature is between 99 and 101 degrees Fahrenheit. It increases when he exercises, of course, but it can also climb when he’s just standing in the hot sun. When a horse’s body temperature reaches 104 degrees, his metabolic system cannot function properly. At just one degree higher, 105 degrees, organs begin to shut down and circulatory collapse is a very real possibility. A heat-stressed horse sweats usually profusely (or not at all) and may even pant like a dog in an effort to dissipate heat. He will also appear dull and listless—uninterested in his surroundings and generally miserable.

Call your veterinarian right away, but take action as you wait for his or her arrival. Move the horse to a shady area, preferably with a breeze, and begin to hose or sponge him down with the coolest water available. The idea that putting cold water on a hot horse causes muscle cramps, laminitis or colic is a myth, so don’t worry about that. Focus your cooling efforts on areas where major blood vessels run close to the skin, such as the armpits, head and throatlatch area. If you can stand him near fans as you work, even better.

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