When you think of summer, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Beaches, water parks, longer days? We would think so too because in summer the winter visitors are gone, and so many residents have gone on vacation that doing almost anything fun is easier. Rush hour is shorter, restaurants are less crowded, water parks and splash pads all around town are open.
Visit the local Botanical gardens and find a bit of shade near the babbling brook. Then go with a friend or two and duck into an air-conditioned area for an afternoon tea or lunch on the patio. Perhaps you enjoy that Arizona summer by getting that long-handled wooden mallet playing a game of polo, then afterward savor that good game by sharing a barbeque and champagne with the team. Now that is a lovely image in mind! And although it is sad to know that our usual summer plans may be hampered due to the pandemic, summer is indeed a terrific season. But while we homo sapiens enjoy a variety of summer activities, not the same can be said for the lovely creatures from the Equidae family.
As we all know summer heat in Arizona can really take a toll on our livestock, especially our horses. When temperatures start rising above 100 degrees, our horses will find the hot weather very uncomfortable, therefore we have to take extra care and make sure our horses are comfortable, healthy, and happy.
Now for people who just recently got a horse, or became interested in horses, it can be hard to know how to properly take care of our spirited equine during hot days. But for the seasoned horse owners and horse lovers out there, you already know these fundamental steps to keep them healthy. But all the same, it is a good thing to be reminded of these steps and maybe learn something new about seasonal horse care that you have not learned before.
1. WATER & SALT
Horses normally cool themselves by sweating. The sweat evaporates from the skin surface and causes a cooling effect. Air temperature and relative humidity affect the horse’s ability to cool itself. Horses can acclimate to hot and humid weather conditions. The table below from the University of Minnesota Animal and Livestock study, may serve as your guidelines and help reduce (or avoid) heat stress in horses.
|Air Temperature (F) + Relative humidity (%)||Horse cooling efficiency|
|Less than 130||Most effective|
|130-150||Decreased cooling efficiency|
|Greater than 150||Greatly reduced cooling efficiency|
|Greater than 180||The condition can be fatal if the horse is stressed.|
A horse that is working hard in a hot environment can lose 2 to 4 gallons of sweat per hour. Allowing a hot horse a few swallows of cool, fresh water every few minutes is key to combat the effects of heat stress. Hence the provision of unlimited access to clean, cool (45 to 64F) water 24/7 is of utmost importance.
You can also cool your horse by spraying the horse’s head, back, neck, rump, and legs with a steady stream of cool water. And for very hot horses you can add ice to the water to speed- up the cooling. But sometimes it’s not enough to give your horse water to drink. Some horses won’t drink enough even if water is provided. Give your horse loose salt at a rate of 1 tbsp per 500 lbs body weight (so most horses will need 2 tbsp) top-dressed on feed as well as access to a salt block year-round. Electrolytes should be given in addition to salt during hot weather or when working hard Aside from keeping them hydrated, your horse depends on water not only for keeping its muscles and tissues properly hydrated but also to support proper gut function. A horse that isn’t receiving enough water during the summer months is just as at risk for colic as during the winter months.
Apart from water, shade from trees or buildings will provide your horse’s relief from the sun. A shaded area can offer a temperature of at least 10 degrees – a big help when it is 130 degrees – or more out there. If you don’t already have lots of shaded areas for your horses, you may want to build something from scratch or move your horse in the barn.
3. FLY CONTROL
Horses, plus manure and sweat, equals annoying pests! And during the summer, heat, and moisture, can increase the growth of bacteria and fungi. For one flies are at their worst during the summer. A fly mask will become your horse’s best friend. Make sure the one you choose is a good fit to prevent irritation and sores. You may want to try a couple of different masks to see which works best for your horse. And you may want to research some manure disposal services, for a nominal fee, you can get someone to haul it away and give or sell it to gardeners and landscape companies. This will eliminate flies’ favorite breeding grounds. Also, it is doubly important to clean your horse’s stall or pen regularly. Whatever your fly prevention regimen, be sure it is keeping your horse adequately protected.
Nutrition is the cornerstone of any healthy, thriving horse. The best feed for your horse optimizes its natural digestive system to get the most nutrients to match its current needs. Your horse’s feed needs to change during the summer. Feed like alfalfa, oats, and corn produce more heat than grass hay or pasture; so cut back or cut out these foods in favor of grass hay and pasture grazing. Letting your horse roam the pasture will also help it get more water. Horses enjoy snacking on freshly watered grass! You can also wet down your horse’s hay or even soak hay or feed before feeding for extra hydration. Check feed regularly, as sweet feed can get moldy in the heat, and you never want your horse to eat bad feed. Also, clean out feed buckets often so they don’t attract flies.
5. STAY UP TO DATE WITH VACCINATIONS AND PARASITE CONTROL
Hot weather brings an increased risk of infectious diseases that involve mosquito transmission to horses. Two important diseases in this category are West Nile virus (WNV) and Potomac Horse Fever (PHF). WNV causes neurologic signs and muscle trembling, killing almost a third of the horses that develop signs. Mosquito numbers often soar in late summer, as larvae hatch from warm water pools. Make sure you keep up with vaccinations to help protect your horse against diseases.
At Cave Creek Equine, our veterinarians can advise you on the appropriate vaccines to administer for your region and those that would be necessary for any areas you may be traveling to.
There you have it, just a few reminders and insights on how to take care of our lovely horse during this summer season. Of course, there are many other ways and steps that you can take to protect and care for your horses. But learning is a continuous process and taking care of our horses is more than just a hobby, it is a lifestyle! We can be each other’s greatest teachers in this lifestyle.
Is your horse experiencing any of these performance issues?
- Poor performance or behavioral issues under saddle
- Coughing or difficulty breathing during heavy exercise
Or do you just want to assure your horse is performing at its peak ability?
It might be time to call an equine vet or sports medicine specialist. We offer our equine veterinary services to horse owners in Scottsdale, Cave Creek, Carefree, Desert Hills, New River, the greater Phoenix area, and all the Westside area (including Wickenburg, Wittman, etc). Get to know more about Cave Creek Equine and our services.