Summer horse care: How to protect your horse in hot weather
#Who doesn’t love the summer sun? But while the hot weather gives us plenty of opportunity to get outdoors and enjoy the season, it can be very dangerous for horses — especially those who work outside. The hot weather can cause a whole host of issues, such as overheating and dehydration, as well as some equine skin diseases. So, it’s vital that you can recognise the first signs of any problems and know how to keep your horse safe and cool in hot weather.
Here, we’ll be offering our tips for taking care of your horse in the heat and recognising potential problems, including:
- How to practice safe summer turnout
- How to ride and train in hot weather
- How to travel safely with your horse in hot weather
- Common problems that can occur in summer
How to practice safe summer turnout
In the summer heat, there may be a few extra things to remember when turning out your horse to keep them safe and healthy and reduce the risk of any health problems.
Watering your horse in hot weather
Your horse needs a constant supply of fresh water to keep them hydrated, and the average horse will drink between 22 and 55 litres of water per day. But, in particularly hot weather, they’ll often drink more than this so maintaining a fresh supply is vital to prevent dehydration.
It’s a good idea to have more than one water source available to your horse so they don’t need to travel far to take a drink. Plus, if one source runs out or another horse is drinking from it, there’s always another available. So, be sure to place plenty of water troughs around the paddock and have another source in the stable. These should be refreshed frequently throughout the day. You may also want to opt for a self-filling trough that will refill automatically when the water level is low. This ensures that your horse always has access to fresh, cool water whenever they need it.
You could also consider feeding your horse a soaked mash, which will help add more water into their diet, along with an electrolyte solution that will replace any minerals they’ve lost.
Cleaning your water troughs in summer
In the summer, your water troughs may be prone to algae, so cleaning them regularly (at least once a week) is essential. Just follow the steps below to clean your water troughs:
- Make sure the trough is completely empty and move it to a shaded area.
- Scrub the tank with a scrubbing brush to remove any dirt and algae.
- Mix together a mild bleach solution with one part bleach to nine parts water and rinse the inside of the trough.
- Rinse the trough again with clean water to remove any residue of the bleach mixture. You’ll need to do this at least twice to ensure the bleach is rinsed away.
- Take the trough back to the field and refill it with fresh, clean water ready for your horse to drink from.
Feeding your horse in hot weather
When they’re spending extra time outdoors grazing, it’s likely that your horse may be consuming more calories than they would usually in the winter. And, because you might be riding them less due to the heat and they won’t be using up any calories to keep warm, they may be eating more than they need. Weight gain isn’t a major issue for horses in the summer, but it’s a good idea to monitor their weight and body condition score and adjust their diet if you need to.
Providing shade for horses in hot weather
While your horse is out in the field during the summer months, make sure they have plenty of shelter and shaded spots to cool down in. This will help prevent issues such as heat stroke and sunburn. Having plenty of horse-friendly trees dotted around our paddock will provide adequate shade, but you may want to keep them in the stable during the hottest times of the day (around 11am–3pm).
Building a field shelter in your paddock is another great option. Your horse will retire to the shelter to cool down in when they start to overheat, meaning they can remain out in the field and stay nice and cool too.
Protecting your horse from flies in hot weather
The summer doesn’t just bring sun and hot weather, but an abundance of flies and midges too. These can be a menace for horses and can cause a variety of health issues, including sweet itch and conjunctivitis. So, it’s a good idea to protect your horse from flies as much as you can by using a fly repellent spray designed for horses.
Alternatively, you could use a fly rug. These are lightweight rugs designed to protect your horse from biting insects. They also tend to be breathable, so your horse doesn’t overheat. Our horse blanket guide will tell you everything you need to know about fitting your horse with a fly or sweet itch rug.
Don’t forget to muck out their stable and clean the field every day to keep the flies at bay. Cleaning the stable is also incredibly important to avoid the spread of parasites, such as worms. Prevention and quick treatment are key when it comes to equine parasites, and if they do pick anything up, then your horse will need worming. Our guide to horse worming offers plenty of advice for testing your horse and developing the best worming schedule for them, as well as more tips for reducing the risk of worms.
Protecting your horse from the sun
Horses with pink skin or dark horses with white markings on their face or nose can be at risk of sunburn in the summer months. So, it’s a good idea to apply a sun cream to pink areas.
You can buy sunscreen made specially for horses from your usual equine supply store, although most human sun cream products are also safe for use on horses — but stick to natural horse sunscreen if your equine friend has sensitive skin. Fly masks and sheets can provide an extra element of sun protection while also keeping those pesky flies away.
Clipping your horse in hot weather
Although clipping is most often done in the autumn and winter to prevent your horse from sweating while they’re working, it’s not uncommon to clip horses in the spring and summer too. In fact, breeds with heavier coats may benefit from summer clipping to keep them cool. Plus, it will make it much easier to wash off any dirt and sweat. Competition horses may also benefit from clipping in hot weather, as it will help them cool down and recover after working. For more tips and advice, read our horse clipping guide.
If you’re clipping your horse, be sure to provide extra skin protection. A horse’s hair is their natural barrier to the elements, and cutting their hair short means trimming this protection, which makes them more vulnerable to insect bites and sunburn. So, make sure you provide extra protective measures such as fly rugs.
Field maintenance in the summer
With longer, brighter days ahead, now is the perfect time to take a walk around your paddock and handle any jobs that need doing. The beginning of the spring or summer is the perfect time to repair any broken fences that could be a hazard before the ground starts to dry up and make it difficult to do so.
Remember that the warm weather also provides the perfect conditions for weeds to grow, and many of these may be poisonous to your horse if ingested. So, it’s a good idea to inspect your field and remove anything that could be dangerous. Our guide to poisonous plants for horses will help you identify which are unsafe. However, if you’re unsure, it’s best to remove the plant anyway to be on the safe side.
How to ride and train in hot weather
The sunshine can make spring and summer the perfect time of the year to go out on a long hack and enjoy all this lovely season has to offer. But the warm weather can prove particularly troublesome for both you and your horse, so you’ll need to bear in mind a few extra considerations before you do any exercise.
Whether you’re thinking of going on a ride or training your horse, remember that they’ll quickly start to warm up from the movement. And, in the sun, they can soon start to overheat and become heat stressed. If you can, it’s best to go on a ride in the morning or evening, avoiding the hottest parts of the day.
If the weather is warm but not hot, then you are usually safe to go on a ride or take part in training, but make sure you take regular breaks to allow your horse to rest. Although it’s commonly thought to be a problem, drinking water straight after exercising will not cause colic, and you should encourage your horse to drink to prevent dehydration.
After riding or exercising, it can be a good idea to hose your hot horse down or give them a sponge bath with cool (but not ice cold) water. This will help them cool down and prevent overheating.
How hot is too hot to ride your horse?
Generally speaking, a temperature of 35°C is too hot for horses, and they should be led to shade in temperatures this high. However, even if the temperature is lower than this, you may need to consider if it’s still safe to ride or train.
As a basic rule of thumb, if the temperature is anywhere above 28°C, you should exercise caution when riding your horse. However, you should also check the humidity before going out. A high humidity can make the temperature feel much warmer and can also reduce the effectiveness of sweat evaporating, making it difficult for your horse to cool down. As a rider, you may also find it difficult to stay out in warm humid weather for long periods of time.
Before going out on your ride, it’s a good idea to check the temperature and humidity to make sure it’s safe. In some temperatures, you should take it easy or avoid going out completely. The chart below can help you work out when it’s too hot to ride a horse.
Best riding gear for hot weather
Although it may be hot, safety while riding should still be of the upmost priority, so wearing the correct riding equipment is essential. Always wear your hat and ensure that it is fastened around your chin at all times. Hi-Viz clothing is also a must, even in the bright sunshine. This type of clothing is also very breathable, so shouldn’t cause any discomfort while riding. Our guide to getting into horse riding includes plenty of tips from our expert equestrians to help you find the right riding gear.
To keep yourself cool, you may want to opt for a shot sleeved or sleeveless riding shirt that is specially designed to wick away sweat. Lightweight and breathable jodhpurs or riding trousers are also a good option. Be sure to pick light colours that will reflect, rather than absorb, the sunlight.
When it comes to choosing footwear for hot weather, short boots are best. And don’t forget to keep yourself safe and hydrated while riding or training too! This means taking along plenty of water and prepping your skin with sun cream (at least factor 30) before you head out.
How to travel safely with your horse in hot weather
If you need to travel with your horse in hot weather, then it’s a good idea to consider if your journey is necessary or if it can wait until the temperature cools. If your journey can’t be avoided, then you’ll need to put in place extra safety considerations before you set out.
First of all, it’s best to travel at the coolest times of the day — either in the morning or evening — and keep your journey as short as possible. To keep your horse safe and healthy, it’s a good idea to only travel when they’re well-rested and hydrated, so avoid exercise and let them relax for a few hours before travelling.
You should conduct all your usual vehicle checks before setting out on the road, including oil levels and tyre pressure. Make sure your horse has good ventilation in the trailer by opening all the vents and windows. You may want to fit your horse with a fly mask to protect their face and eyes from insects and debris coming in through open windows. It’s also a good idea to fit your trailer with a thermometer so you can track the temperature inside. If it gets too hot, you can take measures to cool your horse down.
Make sure you take along plenty of fresh water, with extra water as a precaution to keep your horse hydrated even if you break down or get stuck in traffic. Stopping every two hours or so on your journey not only gives you a break from driving, but also provides the perfect time to let your horse out to rest and give them a drink. Giving them a sponge bath will also help hot horses cool down.
Remember that travelling can be stressful for some horses, and this can cause them to dehydrate more quickly. To help your journey go as smoothly as possible, it can be helpful to practice loading and unloading in the weeks leading up to your journey, so your horse feels more comfortable on the day.
Make sure you recognise the signs of dehydration and overheating and monitor your horse regularly so you can catch any problems as soon as they arise. If you’re ever worried about your horse while out on the road, call 101. Remember that you won’t be able to pull over onto the hard shoulder unless you’ve broken down, so by calling 101, they’ll be able to direct you to the nearest safe place to stop. If you do break down, you will be allowed to pull over onto the hard shoulder — but avoid unloading your horse until the emergency services have granted permission.
Common problems that can occur in summer and how to treat them
In hot weather, your horse may be more prone to certain health problems. So, it’s a good idea to know what to look out for so you can treat them as early as possible.
One of the most common problems for horses in the summer is overheating. Young, old, and ill horses can be more vulnerable to overheating and should be monitored closely in the summer. However, all horses can suffer from overheating and heat stress.
Signs of overheating in horses include:
- Rapid breathing with no signs of slowing down
- High heart rate
- A temperature of over 40°C
- Poor capillary refill in their gums — If you push on your horse’s gums, the pink colour should fade but return in under three seconds. If it takes longer than this, your horse may be overheating.
- Excessive sweating or no sweating at all
If your horse is overheating and doesn’t cool down, they can get heat stroke. This is when their body becomes too hot for their metabolic, muscular, nervous, and respiratory systems to function properly, and their body may start to shut down. So, it’s vital that you take steps to keep your horse cool in the summer and protect them from the heat and sun.
How to cool down a hot horse
It’s best to catch heat exhaustion as early as possible, so if your horse starts to display any symptoms of overheating, you’ll need to take steps to cool them down immediately. If your horse is working, be sure to get them to stop at once and move them to the shade. Then, douse them in cold (but not icy) water to help lower their body temperature.
If your horse is in the stable, providing them with a fan is a great way to keep them cool and prevent overheating.
Along with overheating, your horse may get dehydrated in the summer. Like humans, horses will sweat in the heat so need to drink more fluids in the summer to replace what they’ve lost. If they don’t drink enough, they’ll become dehydrated. A horse needs to lose just 8—10% of their body water to become hydrated.
Symptoms of dehydration in horses are similar to those of overheating and include:
- Elastic skin — If you gently pinch the skin on your horse’s neck between your thumb and fingers, the skin should snap back quickly. If it returns slowly, this is a sign that your horse is dehydrated.
- Lack of interest in surroundings
- Poor capillary refill in their gums
If left, dehydration can cause other health issues such as colic, so it’s best to catch the problem as early as you can.
How to rehydrate your horse
In most circumstances, your horse will stay hydrated with proper feeding and watering. However, if they show signs of dehydration, be sure to check that their water is topped up and cool and encourage them to drink it.
If your horse is still refusing to drink their water, then you may need to add some extra flavouring to it. It’s also possible that your water trough is growing algae, which is very likely in the summer. This can affect the taste of the water, and your horse may refuse to drink it if so. Therefore, cleaning your trough regularly is a must to keep horses hydrated.
Electrolyte supplementation may also help horses in hot weather. This is because, as your horse sweats, they’re not just losing water, but also essential minerals like sodium, chloride, and potassium. Electrolytes are needed to keep your horse’s body working properly, particularly in relation to fluid balance and control. So, keeping them topped up in the summer is vital.
While giving your horse a salt block may help them replace their electrolytes under normal circumstances, this may not be enough if they’ve been working hard in the sun. If your horse has been sweating excessively, such as after exercise, adding extra electrolytes into their feed or water is a good idea.
You can buy electrolyte supplements from most horse supply stores and they’re available in powder, liquid, paste, and lick forms. Some even come with extra flavourings to help mask the unpleasant taste and encourage your horse to get their electrolytes.
If you give your horse an electrolyte-based water, be sure to offer them plain water alongside it so even the pickiest horses can stay hydrated.
If you notice small bumps, or hives (urticaria), on your horse’s skin in the summer, it’s perfectly logical to assume that this is a heat rash or heat bumps. However, while it’s possible for horses to get heat bumps, it’s very uncommon, and it’s more likely that your horse is suffering from an allergic reaction to something. The most common causes tend to be insect bites (sweet itch), horse care products such as shampoo, mould, or any medications they’re taking.
It’s also possible that your horse may have eaten something that has triggered an allergic reaction, as there are many wild plants that are poisonous to horses that your horse may accidentally eat while they’re grazing.
How to identify the cause of hives in horses
Most mild rashes will usually clear up by themselves within a few days and are usually nothing to worry about. Your vet may prescribe antihistamines to ease any itching and discomfort, but they’re usually not necessary. That being said, it’s best to work out the cause of the rash so you can prevent it recurring in the future.
To figure out what’s causing the rash in your horse, think back to what your horse has come into contact with the day the hives occurred. Have they eaten a new type of food? Have you started using a new kind of shampoo? Have they been in a particular area of the paddock? Doing this means you can narrow down what may be the causing factor and switch them out one at a time to find the root of the problem.
Removing any weeds from your paddock is also a good idea, as it’s possible they may have touched or eaten something that has caused the rash.
If you can’t find the cause of the allergic reaction, then it’s best to get veterinary advice, as there could be another underlying health problem.
Sunburn and photosensitivity
Just like humans, some horses can get sunburn. While this won’t affect all horses, those with pink skin or dark horses with white markings on their face can be vulnerable. You can prevent sunburn by ensuring your horse has plenty of shaded areas to graze in, as well as applying sun cream or a fly mask with a protective nose flap.
Stabling your horse during the hottest and brightest times of the day is a great way to prevent sunburn and any other sun related issues. Providing a fan in their stable will help keep them cool while indoors.
How to treat sunburn in horses
If your horse does get sunburned, you can soothe the affected area with an ointment, such as one containing aloe or oatmeal, and keep them out of the sun while it heals.
It’s also possible that your horse has become sunburned as a result of photosensitivity. This is a type of allergic reaction that is triggered when the skin is exposed to the sun. In this case, it’s best to narrow down the cause of the allergy so you can prevent a reaction in the future.
Your horse may also be susceptible to bruised hooves in the summer, as the ground dries up and becomes hard. The most common causes of bruised hooves are fast work on hard ground or excessive stamping due to flies.
If your horse is taking shorter strides, is lame, or is reluctant to walk on surfaces that they usually wouldn’t have a problem with, this could be a sign of bruised hooves. You may also notice purple or red marks on the hoof.
How to treat bruised hooves
Bruised hooves should be taken care of as soon as possible to prevent an abscess and infection. Light bruising will usually go away on its own, but you should take it slow on hard ground to stop it getting worse.
For more severe bruising, for example if your horse is lame, the first step should be to call your farrier. They will remove the horse’s shoes and pare over the bruise to reduce the amount of weight baring on the affected area. If there are any punctures or splits in the hoof, these will need to be treated with a poultice dressing. Your horse may also need to be given anti-inflammatory painkillers until they recover.
To protect your horse from bruising, it may help to fit them with hoof pads or boots. Your farrier should be able to advise you on the best option for your horse.
Along with extreme heat, the summer can bring along a larger number of flies that can cause a whole host of issues for your horse. One problem that horses can face are summer sores, an oozy, itchy skin condition caused by equine stomach worm larvae.
The larvae are carried in the stomachs of flies and, when the flies land on the horse’s mouth, the larvae will usually make their way into the horse’s stomach. However, sometimes the larvae can find themselves on other parts of the horse’s body, where they’ll try to burrow into the skin. This causes summer sores.
Summer sores aren’t very common in the UK, but they can still occur, so it’s important to know the symptoms. Look for circular red sores, usually around the lips, on the face, or on the legs, but they may occur on other areas of the body. The wounds may also be weeping.
How to treat summer sores on horses
If you suspect your horse may have summer sores, the best thing to do is to call an equine vet as the sores won’t go away on their own. The vet will then check the wound and remove the larvae. Your horse will also be given Ivermectin —a medication used to treat parasitic infections. They may also be prescribed anti-inflammatory medications such as steroids or antimicrobials.
Conjunctivitis can occur any time of the year but can be a particular nuisance in the summer due to an increase of flies. The condition is caused by bacteria entering the eye and triggering an infection. In the summer, when flies are more abundant, they can often be seen swarming around your horse, particularly around their face. When they land on their eyes, any bacteria the flies are carrying can be transferred, causing conjunctivitis.
Symptoms of conjunctivitis in horses include red weepy eyes, sometimes with a yellow discharge. Your horse may also shake their head or scratch their face on their knees or any nearby objects. Although it looks painful, conjunctivitis usually doesn’t usually cause any severe health problems and will only be mildly uncomfortable for your horse.
How to treat conjunctivitis in horses
If your horse contracts conjunctivitis, the infection can easily be treated with a topical antibiotic eye solution prescribed by your vet. You can also prevent an infection by fitting your horse with a fly mask to keep bugs away from their eyes.
Along with flies, the summer can bring out other pesky insects like mosquitoes and midges, which can cause sweet itch. Also known as summer seasonal recurrent dermatitis (SSRD) or equine insect bite hypersensitivity (EIBH), sweet itch is an allergic reaction to insect bites. Symptoms of sweet itch in horses can include:
- Excessive scratching — You may notice your horse rolling around a lot more or scratching their face on their knees, or their body on any nearby objects.
- Hair loss around the affected area from excessive scratching. The exposed skin may appear broken and inflamed.
How to treat sweet itch in horses
While there is no cure for sweet itch, you can help soothe the condition with anti-itch shampoos such as those that contain antihistamines or anti-inflammatories. It’s also a good idea to call your vet so they can inspect the area and rule out any other skin conditions that might be the cause. They may also be able to prescribe a steroid medication if the condition is severe.
Horses that are susceptible to sweet itch can get the condition whenever they are bitten, and the problem can return each year. So, it’s a good idea to put steps in place to protect them from being bitten in the first place. Insect repellents can be effective at deterring midges and mosquitos. You could also consider a sweet itch rug that will cover your horse’s body and prevent them from being bitten.
Mud fever refers to a skin condition that occurs on the horse’s lower legs in wet weather and is caused by bacteria living in the ground. Symptoms of mud fever include irritation, matted hair, sores, and scabs on the back of your horse’s legs. Although the condition is more common in the winter months, mud fever can also be a problem for horses in the summer as they spend more time outdoors.
If you notice any of these symptoms in your horse and they’ve never had it before, it’s best to call your vet who can confirm the diagnosis and treatment.
How to treat mud fever
Mud fever can be treated by first removing the scabs to allow the area to air out and heal. Then, twice a day, clean the area with a mild disinfectant, rinse it with clean water, and pat the area dry. If your horse has long feathers, it might be helpful to clip them short to aid with healing. Applying a bandage around the area can help to keep it dry and clean while your horse goes about its activities. If the mud fever is severe, your vet may need to prescribe an extra treatment plan according to their needs.
To prevent your horse getting mud fever in the future, it’s best to keep their conditions as dry as possible. This includes getting them fitted with boots and applying barrier creams. It may also be a good idea to rotate fields to prevent the ground from getting churned up, and lay down hay and straw on any particularly damp and boggy areas that you can’t avoid.
While the summer means your horse can spend more time out in the field, it’s vital that you take extra care during hot weather to keep them safe. Knowing how to recognise the signs of overheating and dehydration, as well as how to cool down a hot horse, is incredibly important. By practicing safe turnout, riding, and travelling, you can keep your horse healthy during this time.
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