Health Care

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Caring for horses in summer

During the hot summer months in Australia horses are under extra stress from heat, humidity, poor feed quality and insect worry. Some horses tolerate the heat well, while others lose coat and body condition and don’t perform at their best.

There are many things that horse owners need to be aware of during this period and the list below is by no means exhaustive, but the following key factors should be taken into consideration when it comes to caring for your horse during summer.

tips to care for your horse in summer

1. Reduce dehydration risk with electrolyte supplements

The risk of dehydration and related problems is much higher during the summer months. About 75-80% of the energy used by the horse’s body is given off as heat, which is mainly lost through evaporation of sweat or evaporative cooling from the respiratory tract. Exercising horses can lose up to 10-15 litres of sweat per hour, depleting the horse of fluid, but also key salts such as sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium and magnesium. Horses ridden occasionally should be able to replace their body salt losses from pasture and a salt “lick” in their paddock. However, horses which are exercised and sweat freely on a regular basis should receive a daily electrolyte supplement such as HUMIDIMIX®, RECHARGE® or BECTYL®.

2. Ensure adequate cool down after work

As well as sweat loss during work, horses can continue to sweat for long periods after work, especially if they are not adequately cooled down. The following cool down process is recommended after work in hot conditions:

  • Remove all gear, including work bandages and boots as soon as possible.
  • Sponge or hose down the horse with cool water over the neck, body, limbs and under the belly.
  • After hosing, scrape the horse off immediately. If not scraped off, the water in the coat will retain heat and can slow down the cooling process.
  • If the horse continues to pant or blow, it is a good idea to walk it for a few minutes before repeating the hosing and scraping.
  • A refreshing wash can be made by adding 4 tablespoons of RAPIGEL® - a muscle and joint relieving liniment – to 8 litres of water.
  • During cool down, you should not give very hot horses free access to cold water. Instead, it is best to let them drink about 2-4 litres initially, then after 10-15 minutes of cooling down let them have free access to drinking water. An electrolyte replacer such as RECHARGE could also be provided.

3. Watch for signs of heat stress

Horses that are worked hard during hot weather, especially if the humidity is high can suffer from heat stress. Horse that are unconditioned, overweight or dehydrated are most susceptible. Signs of heat stress include muscle weakness, rapid breathing and panting, an elevated heart rate and depression. Heat stress is an emergency and immediate steps must be taken to reduce the internal body temperature of the horse.

  • The horse should be unsaddled and led to a shady spot.
  • If water is not available, fan the horse with a shirt or saddle for 1-2 minutes.
  • Walk the horse slowly for 1-2 minutes before repeating the fanning and walking until the horse brightens up.
  • If water is available, sponge or hose the horse, scrape off excess water and walk the horse for 2-3 minutes. Repeat until the horse brightens up.

4. Be aware of anhidrosis (dry coat or non-sweating disease)

Anhidrosis, or the inability to sweat to cool the body, is a condition that can develop in horses kept in hot, humid environments. Anhidrosis can occur in any age, breed or sex of horse and usually begins in the spring or summer. The underlying cause of dry coat is not known and affected horses can have poor stamina and fatigue easily. In severe cases, they can develop heat stress and collapse during exercise. Anhidrosis is a very difficult condition to treat and full recovery is rare if the horse remains in the hot, humid environment. Tips for managing a horse with anhidrosis include:

  • Try to get the horse fit before the hotter months of the year.
  • House in cool environments such as an air-conditioned stable and provide shade for paddocked horses.
  • Exercise the horse during the cooler times of the day or evening.
  • Feed low roughage, extruded or fat-supplemented diets to reduce the heat produced during fermentation of fibrous foods.
  • An electrolyte supplement such as HUMIDIMIX can be fed year round if the horse is being exercised and supplementation with 1000-5000 IU of Vitamin E (eg. WHITE-E® powder or liquid) can also be beneficial.

horse care in summer

5. Take care of pesky insects

Warmer months can bring along with it insects which can worry and bite horses, especially in the humid, coastal regions of Australia. Insects can lead to ongoing annoyance, weight loss, and localised or wide spread skin diseases. Bites and stings can cause a wound large enough to ooze serum and predispose the horse to secondary bacterial infections. In regions with high insect numbers, light body and neck rugs as well as fly hoods can be used to protect the horse. An insecticidal spray such as FLYAWAY® can be used on the horse or in stables to provide sustained protection. If the skin is broken and there is an open wound, apply an antiseptic cream such as SEPTICIDE® (which also contains a fly repellent).

6. Provide nutrients for optimal coat & hoof care

Hot weather and regular sweating can lead to a dull, dried-out coat during the summer months. A daily dose of FERAMO® with CHROMIUM added to the feed daily will help to maintain general health and coat condition during the summer months by providing nutrients supporting skin and coat health such as vitamin A, iron, copper and cobalt. The use of light rugs and hoods as well as the daily addition of about 60 mL (4 tablespoons) of sunflower, safflower or blended polyunsaturated cooking oil to the feed may also help to improve or maintain coat condition and colour.

During warmer months, inspect the hooves regularly for signs of drying out. This is common in horses working regularly on dry and sandy tracks or arenas. Applying a moisturising hoof dressing is useful for horses with dry hooves. For horses with brittle, shelly or “broken away” hooves, a combined calcium and biotin supplement such as CAL-PLUS® with BIOTIN can be added to the feed daily. Biotin supplements take time to work, so ensure daily feeding for 6-12 months for best results.

7. Maintain strategic worming practices

Horses should be wormed every 6-8 months throughout the year. During the summer months, use a product that also control bot larvae such as EQUIMAX®/EQUIMAX® LV or ERAQUELL® PELLETS. Adult bot flies lay eggs on the legs and belly and can cause horses to panic leading to injuries. Young horses should be wormed with EQUIMAX ELEVATION® from 6 weeks of age until they are 2 years old. Hot dry spells are a good time to rest horse paddocks to reduce the number of worm eggs and larvae surviving on heavily infected pastures. High temperatures and dryness are fatal to most worm eggs and larvae and 2-3 weeks of spelling during this time will dramatically reduce the level of pasture contamination.

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