How can I keep my horse cool in the summer?
Summer can be great fun - longer days, a few holidays, warm temps, and no school! Summer can also be hot with a capital H. How can we keep our horse buddies cool? We’ll do this in two parts - the first part we can talk about general cooling, and then in part two we will talk about cooling during and after exercise.
Sometimes, we can change the routine we have with our horses to accommodate the weather. This means that during the heat of the day, our buddies should be where there is shade available, a breeze, and plenty of clean water. Sometimes this is the barn, sometimes it is the turnouts. Your property will decide for you!
Clean water is KEY to keeping cool in the summer.
Speaking of water - summer is the time to really observe how much water your horse is drinking. This is clearly easier with buckets that you must refill. Consider adding another bucket and/or refilling more often. If you have automatic waterers, it’s darn near impossible to monitor water intake. In either situation, you will want to also do regular checks for dehydration, like a pinch test and checking how slippery his gums are. Learn more about dehydration here in this article.
Notice how much water he drinks and when. Horses are creatures of habit, and if you are usually filling 2/3 of a bucket at noon and one day you are only filling 1/3, this is a sign for you to intervene.
You can also have your horse consume more water by adding it to his hay and rations. Soaking his hay is a great way to have him drink. One flake of hay can “hold” about 2 gallons of water. This is easy to do with a “hay” only wheelbarrow. Load with a few flakes of hay, add water, soak for a bit out of the sun, and tip the wheelbarrow to drain. You can find more tips on soaking hay here. Adding water to rations is another good way to hydrate, most horses like having their rations made into a “soup”. Depending on what type of grain you feed, you may need to add water to let the grain “expand”, then you can add even more. Every little bit of water counts!
Don’t forget to add electrolytes to your horse’s routine to replace the minerals lost if your horse is sweating.
Access to a breeze is a must in the hot weather. This can be natural, but there will be days where a breeze would feel like winning the lottery! In the barn, you can use fans. There is great debate out there about what types of fans to use - residential or commercial. (I have tons of experience with this - I was the project manager for a multi million dollar barn renovation and research was my middle name. I also worked for decades in the construction industry) Whatever fan you choose, you must make sure that there is a thermostatically controlled mechanism in the fan to switch it off if it starts to overheat. This feature is available on very expensive fans (think thousands here) and also the cheap-o models that can run you about $50. Work with an electrician to make sure your barn’s wiring can handle the electrical load. While he is there, have the electrician put all of your wiring into metal conduits. This prevents birds, bugs, and rodents from eating wires. It’s handy for us blame the fans as a fire hazard, when the reality is that the hazards are the wires and the humans not cleaning enough. OK - now stepping off the soap box.
So you can have a breeze in the barn, or one outside! Even without a breeze outside, it may be cooler than in the barn. Use common sense and make sure there is shade at all times of the day when the heat is an issue. Shade can be from a shelter or trees or a shed. Be warned that even with adequate shade, your horse will likely drive you crazy by hanging out in the sun. Just as he likes to stand in the pouring rain after you have given him a super awesome dry fluffy bed.
On super hot and muggy days, you may be tempted to give him a feel good shower, even if he did not just exercise. That’s a great idea! Just be sure to use your sweat scraper - rinse, scrape, rinse, scrape, you get the idea. Leaving water on your horse let’s his own body temperature heat it up - so in a few minutes he’s just standing there wearing a hot water suit. Allow him to dry in the shady breeze or in front of a fan for more effective cooling.
Scrape the water from your horse and dry in the shade!
And, I don’t think I need to remind you to keep up with taking your horse’s temperature. More than once a day could be prudent, especially with weather temperature spikes and after exercise. And maybe before you tuck them in for the night.
So - there is your plan!! Enjoy the summer and stay cool.