As the days get longer & warmer, we often enjoy longer rides in the sunshine.
However, as the temperatures rise, so do the risks of your horse suffering heat stress or dehydration.
Horses regulate their body temperature predominantly by sweating – and sweating a lot. A race horse at full gallop can lose up to 10 litres in two minutes!
Signs of heat stress or dehydration can include:
- profuse sweating & puffing (more than normal)
- prolonged elevated heart rate
- prolonged skin tent (pinch 1-2 inches of skin – when you let go it should bounce straight back to normal; a dehydrated horse’s will not)
- capillary refill time increased (apply pressure to the gum & when released, it should return to normal pink colour within 2 seconds)
- faeces can become hard & dry, urine will appear dark yellow to brown in appearance
Treatment may consist of:
- seeking shade
- cool hosing until horse starts to settle
- offering fresh water
Some horses will require veterinary intervention which often results in intravenous fluids being administered. In severe cases, secondary complications such as tying up, muscle damage and heart complications can arise requiring further treatment.
In order to prevent heat stress or dehydration, several precautions can be taken:
- when at rest, ensure horses always have access to cool, fresh water & shade.
- when having to travel for competitions in heat waves, try to travel early in the morning or at night when temperatures are coolest.
- ensure regular stops (every 2 hours) to offer a bucket of water. If your horse is a finicky drinker, taking water from home can help.
- consider having oral electrolytes available when competing in hot &/or humid conditions. Horses should be cooled down diligently following competition. Horses in heavy work or regular competition during warmer weather may benefit from an electrolyte supplement plan.
Contact your veterinarian for further information, or if you are at all concerned that your horse may be showing signs of distress.