Australian summers are famous for hot weather, so it's important to know how to look after your horse properly in extreme conditions.
Here are a few tips for caring for horses in summer, from making sure they have constant fresh water to knowing when to exercise them and recognising signs of heat stroke in horses.
General hot weather horse care
There are a number of things you should have in place to care for your horses in summer.
- Adequate clean water. This can be from a dam or trough if your horse is in a paddock. If your horse is stabled, you need to make sure they have an automatic waterer or their bucket is filled regularly.
- Salt licks. In extreme heat, horses regulate their temperature by sweating, so keeping a salt lick available can help them replenish lost salts. If you’re working a horse in hot weather, electrolyte replacements in their water or feed are also a good idea.
- Insect deterrents. Lightweight rugs and hoods can offer good protection against insects, as can a commercial insect repellent. Also, make sure you keep stable areas clear of manure and soiled straw to deter flies. Keep your horse wormed and bot fly treatments up to date.
- Shelter and fans. Keep stable or barn doors open for the breeze, and if it’s a still day, use fans. Misting your horse with water can be cooling if it’s particularly hot. If you keep your horse in a paddock, make sure it has good tree cover and natural shade. If that’s not an option, build some shelter so your horse has access to shade through the hottest parts of the day.
- Sunscreen. Be aware that horses with white noses can experience sunburn. A good equine sunscreen can offer protection.
Working horses in summer
Try to limit exercise to the cooler parts of the day, during the early morning and late in the day. If you can’t, if you’re showing for instance, try and source a shady spot for your horse between classes, where there’s a good breeze, or even make use of a fan to create some air movement.
To cool your horse down once you’re finished working them, always:
- Remove all tack.
- Sponge or hose the horse all over to wash away sweat and foam.
- Scrape off excess water immediately, as leaving the water on the horse can interfere with the cooling process, causing it to retain heat.
- If the horse is panting or blowing, repeat the process.
- Monitor water intake when the horse is very hot. Too much cold water at once can lead to colic. Offer cool water in small amounts regularly.
Signs of heat stroke in horses
Heat stroke in horses can be a life-threatening condition. Symptoms to watch for include:
- Elevated breathing rate. Normal rate for adults at rest is 10-24 breaths per minute.
- Elevated pulse. Normal beats per minute for an adult is between 28 and 44.
- Profuse sweating, or no sweat at all.
- High temperature - the normal adult range is from 37.2 to 38.3C.
- Irregular heartbeat.
- Depression or lethargy.
- Signs of dehydration, which can include dry mucus membranes, a caved in look, and skin that doesn’t bounce back if you pinch it.
If you suspect heat stroke, call your vet. While you’re waiting for them to come, keep the horse in the coolest, shadiest place available. If you have water you can stand them in, do that. Keep sponging the horse down, and keep a fan on them if there’s no breeze.
Most of the horse care you need to do to keep them happy and healthy through a hot Australian summer is common sense. Just be aware of your horse's comfort level in hot weather, and call your vet if you think you might be dealing with something like heat stroke. Otherwise, enjoy the sunny days out and about with your horse!