Hold your Horses and Keep Their Cool for the Summer 11

Summer is just around the corner and as it heats up, so do the chances your horses become victims of heat stress.

When does heat stress occur? What are the signs?

Overheating can result in cramps, heatstroke, collapse, and even death in severe cases. They may pant and have increased heart and respiratory rates. Internally, when heat-related stress occurs, horses’ normal water and electrolyte balance are disrupted. As a result, they may exhibit reduced skin elasticity, shortened capillary refill time, anhidrosis (failure of the sweat glands), colic, and hyperthermia.

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“Do the skin pinch test to check your horse’s hydration,” says Dr. Glennon Mays of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Test for dehydration by pinching the skin along the horse’s neck. The skin should snap back quickly if the pinched area collapses slowly the horse is dehydrated.”

What if your horse is overheated?

Take immediate action and call a veterinarian especially if they have elevated respiration or pulse (in an inactive horse), body temperature above 103 degrees Fahrenheit, or an irregular heartbeat. While waiting for the vet to arrive, remove the saddle and any tack on the horse and keep the horse hydrated by giving water to drink.

“Move the horse to a shady area or to a cool, well-ventilated barn. Then spray with cool water and place ice packs on the horse’s head and large blood vessels on the neck and the inside of its legs,” says Mays. “Be careful to not spray the horse’s face or get water in its ears; just sponge these areas gently.”

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What NOT to believe

According to Dr. Kevin Kline of the University of Illinois Extension, there are some misguided ideas out there when it comes to cooling off an overheated horse.

“Never let a horse drink more than a few swallows of water at a time. Although allowing unrestricted amounts of water can lead to colic, a horse’s stomach can hold between two and four gallons of fluid without becoming distended,” Kline says.

“Never put ice-cold water on a hot horse: It was once believed this would shock the horse’s thermoregulatory system into shutting down blood flow to the skin.” Kline says it actually helps dissipate heat by providing water to evaporate from the skin and conducting the horse’s body heat into the water.

More misnomers

“Never let a hot horse cool off without a blanket or sheet.” Kline says, “Covering a hot horse may severely limit its ability to return its body temperature to normal. Never let a hot horse go in a drafty area: Especially with dark horses, moving air helps them stabilize and lower their body temperatures.”

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We hope that these tips are and will be helpful for our noble steeds. Keep cool and enjoy the summer.