It’s summer, and the weather and barrel racing season are heating up — leaving you in a quandary. You have a green horse and your first race is just a week away. Yet the weather forecaster is predicting scorching temperatures and suffocating humidity. What’s a rider to do? Give up on riding because of the oppressive heat, or continue working your horse while praying for the best?
Horses Do Sweat It
Horses and primates (including humans) are the only mammals that have sweat glands all over their bodies and use sweating as their primary means to cool down. As sweat evaporates from a horse’s body, the water changes from a liquid to a gas while absorbing the heat from your mount’s skin, leaving it cooler. Unfortunately, when the weather is humid, sweat can’t evaporate as quickly and, thus, can’t provide the cooling relief your horse requires. This could lead to heat stress or even life-threatening heat stroke in horses.
The Danger Zone
What are the signs that your horse is suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke? Learn more below.
• Temperature of 102 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or above
• Profuse sweating
• Skin may feel cool even though the body temperature is elevated
• Skin is hot and dry
• Rapid breathing
• Temperature of 106 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit
If you believe that your horse is experiencing heat stress or heat stroke, stop riding immediately and remove its tack. Get your equine into a shady area, and then call your vet. While you’re waiting for the veterinarian to arrive, start wetting your horse’s body with cool — not cold — water. Begin with its hooves and legs, and work your way to its head. To prevent muscle cramping, try to walk your horse every five to 10 minutes, so that the heat can be released from its muscles. You should also allow your horse to drink small amounts of water every 15 minutes or so. Remember, though, never allow a too-hot-to-ride horse to drink a large amount of water all at once. This could lead to foundering or colic.
Avoiding Heat Stress
Have you ever wondered what temperature is considered too hot to ride? Most experts suggest using this formula to determine whether or not you should work your horse:
Add the temperature in Fahrenheit together with the percentage of relative humidity.
For example, if it’s 80 degrees and the humidity is 50 percent, your number will be 130.
If your sum is …
• Less than 130: Horses can be ridden if proper hydration is provided.
• 130-170: Be cautious. Your horse’s ability to cool itself will be compromised by the heat and humidity.
• 170 or above: Don’t ride. It only takes about 15 minutes of moderate exercise to raise your horse’s temperature to a dangerous, potentially life-threatening level.
Even if your sum is below 170, consider waking up extra early to ride when it’s hot. Riding when the weather is still cool and there are fewer biting insects to contend with can be ideal for you and your horse.
What to Wear When Horseback Riding in the Summer
Your horse isn’t the only one that suffers when temperatures rise. Hot, sticky days can make riding positively miserable. Thanks to modern technology, however, there are now pieces of clothing available on the market that have been designed to help you stay cool, including:
• Shirts with internal cooling technology fabric: The material used for these shirts has sweat-activated cooling properties.
• Cooling vest:Just dunk this vest in cold water, wring and then wear. It is designed to keep you cool for at least several hours.
• Riding tights:Because they’re lightweight, tights can feel much cooler than breeches or jeans in the summer.
Finally, Keep Your Horse’s Back Cool
Don’t throw just any saddle blanket on your horse’s back. Instead, choose a wool one. Compared to synthetic materials, wool boasts superior moisture-wicking properties that will help your horse’s back remain cooler.
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