For those of us who live in South Florida (aka "The Inferno" for roughly six months of each year), the 90-degree days have been pounding down on us for months. And, while you Northerners haven't been suffering for quite as long, I know from personal experience that summer in the Northland can be quite brutal, as well. So, what's an equestrian to do -- turn the horse out to pasture and spend the next few months bunkered down in the AC? Of course not! We're a hard-core lot, and I'm sure most of you have been carrying on in your equestrian endeavors, regardless of the sweltering temperatures. So, I've put together some stay-cool tips for you, your pony, and your faithful canine friends.
For Your Horse:
- Hose and sweat-scrape your horse before you tack up in order to get a head-start on the heat.
- Keep a bucket of water and a sponge handy in the arena, especially if your horse suffers from anhydrosis (an inability to sweat). Periodically sponge your horse down to cool him off. You can also add a bit of rubbing alcohol to the water in order to encourage faster evaporation (and thus faster cooling).
- Make sure, when hosing your horse off, to scrape the water off & re-hose repeatedly until the water you are scraping off your horse is no longer hot. This is extremely important, and something that a lot of people do not understand. Even down here in South Florida, a lot of my fellow equestrians simply hose the horse once and leave it dripping with water, thinking that this will help the horse stay cool. This is simply not true! Look at it this way -- when a horse sweats, the sweat absorbs some of the heat from the horse's body and then evaporates, taking the heat with it. This is how sweating helps to cool a horse (and why it is more difficult for horses and humans to stay cool in high humidity -- sweat is slower to evaporate, which means the heat is "trapped" on the body). The same is true for water -- the act of scraping away the warm water removes the heat from the horse's body. So, remember to hose/scrape/repeat until the water you're scraping off is cool! (Thanks to Solo for reminding me that we all need to make a Public Service Announcement about this issue!)
- Stock up on Horse Quencher! I can't say enough good things about this product, as it has essentially negated that age-old saying, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink." It's handy to have on-hand for overheated or dehydrated horses, trailering, showing, and any stressful situation where a horse is not drinking enough. I have yet to meet a horse who wouldn't greedily slurp down an entire bucket of Horse Quencher-enhanced water, lick all the dregs, and look for more. It comes in the stand-by flavors of apple & peppermint, as well as the unusual but equally palatable butterscotch & root beer flavors.
- Misters, whether installed in the barn or a turn-out area, can be a great way to help your horses (and you!) beat the heat. They come in an array of options, from relatively inexpensive to astronomically priced. Do a little research and you can easily install one yourself.
- For horses suffering from anhydrosis, the standard treatment is the supplement One AC (although it now has a few competitors, like Let Em Sweat), plus limiting rides to early morning or late evening. Some say that adding beer (particularly dark beer, like Guinness) to the feed also helps the horse to sweat, but there is no scientific evidence to back up this claim. Feeding beer is certainly not harmful, though, so it may be worth a shot.
- Of course, adding electrolytes is a summer essential for many horses. Just make sure you do your research; here's an enlightening article about electrolytes: http://www.thehorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=12000&src=fav. One point this article stresses is that, for most horses, an electrolyte supplement mainly triggers the thirst mechanism in the horse, encouraging him to drink more. It also stresses the importance of having free-choice salt available for your horse at all times.
There is also an alternative to traditional electrolytes -- I know a few people down here in South Florida who always give their horses a bucket of Gatorade after each ride (and their horses love it!).
- Fans are essential for stall-kept horses; however, it is safer to buy a heavy-duty industrial fan with a sealed motor, as there is less incidence of fire with these fans (Farmtek makes some nice models -- and, yes, they are more expensive, but your horse's safety is certainly worth it). Make sure you keep wires out of chewing distance from your horses, and keep the fan as free of dust and cobwebs as possible.
- Avoid drinking excessive amounts of soda, tea, or other caffeinated beverages, as these can lead to dehydration. Stick with water, lemonade, or sports drinks like Gatorade.
- Last year, I was given several cooling neckbands, which are filled with a special polymer. You soak the neckband in water for a while, which causes the polymer to plump up and hold the water -- you can then put them in the fridge to cool them further, or just put them on. They might not be a fashion statement, but they really do help to keep you cool for quite a while (I used them when the AC in my car was on the fritz, and they were a lifesaver!). I wish I knew exactly where my friend purchased them, but a quick Google search brought up several results. The site www.coolbandanas.com looks promising.
- There used to be a product called Cookie's Cool Caps, which were thin ice packs designed to be placed inside a riding helmet. Unfortunately, they are no longer manufactured; however, you can certainly buy small, flexible gel ice packs and use them in the same way. Also, there are similar products made for hard-hats, which would work just as well in a riding helmet --http://www.miracool.com/hard-hat-cooling.htm (scroll down, and there are many different options).
- Wear cotton clothing and/or special sweating-wicking exercise gear in light colors in order to aid sweat evaporation and heat reflection. While browsing through a Dover catalog recently, I saw a pair of seersucker breeches, which would be ideal for summer riding (although they might elicit a few sideways glances!).
For Your Dog:
- Many people believe that dogs don't sweat at all, but this is a myth; they do sweat, but only a small amount, as they only have sweat glands in their paws (and I believe in their noses, as well). They mainly cool off by panting. However, allowing them to stand in cool water can greatly help them deal with heat.
This is Zoe, my old Bouvier des Flandres.
Best. Dog. Ever.
- I recently bought my Husky a Kool Collar for her to wear during our walks. It contains a reusable icepack, but can also be filled with ice. While it's so small that it probably only offers her minimum heat relief, I do feel that it helps a bit. (I only walk her at night, as she is a very hairy beast and gets overheated quite easily!)