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Ask the Veterinarian: Handling The Summer Heat


2015/07/03

The veterinarians at Full Circle Equine Services - Drs. Kakki Wright and Ellen Yungmeyer - answer your horse health care questions. Submit your questions to their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/FullCircleEq

By Dr. Ellen Yungmeyer

Q. Do you have any tips to beat the heat and keep my horse healthy this summer?

A. There are absolutely some steps you can take to help your horse thrive despite the mid-south summer heat. In many ways, summer months are the happiest for horses and horse owners. Plenty of green grass to eat, late evening light to ride after work, and horse related events and competitions at their peak. However, summer fun with the horses can quickly turn to disaster if your equine friend gets overwhelmed by the heat.

Whether competing or riding for pleasure, remember to think of your horse as an athlete. Make sure to give your horse breaks in the shade to catch his breath if riding in the middle of day and stop for water breaks during long rides.  If your horse isn’t fit, be sure to take it easy the first few rides. Summer is the most common time we see cases of “tying up” or exertional rhabdomyolysis. There are several underlying genetic disorders that can cause a horse to tie up, but occasionally unfit horses that become overexerted will tie up for no other reason. Sweating heavily in the heat likely plays a role in this. 

Speaking of sweating, you should always pay attention to how sweaty your horse is after a hard work in the heat. Anhidrosis, or failure to sweat, is a condition that horses can develop at any age and is most common in warm climates. It is believed that the sweat glands of horses with this condition become overwhelmed due to constant heat and humidity and simply shut down. Anhidrotic horses usually develop the problem in the summer, and the first signs will be huffing and puffing during exercise, very hot but dry skin, and constantly seeking shade in the pasture.

When not riding, there are several important steps you can take to keep your horse comfortable and healthy. First and foremost is hydration. Be sure to provide a salt/mineral block or loose trace minerals so that horses can adequately replace electrolytes in addition to drinking water. Most horses drink well during the summer because heat and sweating drives thirst. But if your horse doesn’t drink well, or you are traveling or training hard, you may need to help them out by offering flavored water or dosing them with electrolytes. Our favorite trick for horses in the clinic is to make “senior water,” which is just a large handful of pelleted feed such as Equine Senior in about ¼ bucket of water. As horses learn what it is and realize there’s a treat at the bottom of the bucket, you can start to add even more water. Some people also have success flavoring water with electrolyte powder, Gatorade, apple juice, or soda. However, always make sure to provide a bucket of clean, plain water, as well, in case your horse doesn’t want the flavored water.

If you stall your horses part of the time, consider keeping them inside during the day for heat and bug relief and turning out at night. Flies can be a major stressor to horses due to the extra energy required to constantly swat and stomp. Flies also spread contagious diseases such as Equine Infectious Anemia and Pigeon Fever. A stall fan and good fly control will improve their comfort (and therefore their overall health) greatly.

If you have concerns about how your horse is handling the heat, consult with your veterinarian. Happy summer riding!
 
 

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