There’s no avoiding sweaty saddle pads when you ride in the summer. But “hot” can turn into “dangerously overheated” quickly if you don’t make sure your horse can cope with the heat before, during and after a workout.
Before you ride on a hot day, particularly if humidity is high, make sure your horse is managing the heat well enough. A horse who has been standing in a shady field or a well-ventilated stall shouldn’t be sweaty before you even tack up. In hot weather, consider sponging or hosing your horse with water before you ride. Scrape him thoroughly (if you leave too much water on his coat it will simply heat up rather than evaporating quickly enough to provide cooling) and then tack up while he is still damp. The water will evaporate as he works, just as sweat would, keeping him cooler.
As you ride, be mindful of how your horse is coping with the heat. Take breaks often and check his respiratory rate, either visually or by feeling him breathe beneath you. It’s not unusual for a hard-working horse to breathe hard, but his respiration should return to normal after a few minutes of walking. If your horse breathes hard longer, or if he suddenly just seems sluggish, he needs a break in the shade, a cooling bath and access to water.
After your ride, head for the wash stall. There is no harm in putting cold water on a hot, sweaty horse, and it can help lower his body temperature. Scrape the water off, then walk your horse for several minutes to allow his muscles to cool down. Also offer him some water to drink. If his demeanor and respiratory rate don’t seem normal within a half-hour, take his temperature. If it’s elevated, rinse and scrape him again. Then retake his temperature. If it hasn’t dropped considerably, call your veterinarian.
When you turn your horse out or return him to his stall, make sure he has plenty of clean, fresh water available. It can take several hours and many drinks to replace fluids lost during a workout on a hot day. If he has sweated for more than two hours, consider adding an electrolyte supplement to his evening meal to replace vital minerals lost through perspiration.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #454, July 2015.