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1O steps to... Summer Horse Health

This article is from the November 2020 Horse Deals magazine.

1. Exercise & Manage Smart

Reduce the risk of heat stress by exercising your horse in the early hours of the morning or in the cool of the evening. Know your horse’s physical limitations and avoid strenuous exercise in humidity and extreme heat.

At the end of the ride, remove saddlery and boots and hose the horse off, including legs, to reduce any heat in the tendons. Scrape excess water off the horse, as water on the coat will act as an insulator and increase body temperature. Scraping excess water allows the remaining moisture to evaporate more efficiently and aids in cooling.

In sweltering conditions, be on the alert for signs of heat stress, which include: rapid breathing and heart rate, high temperature, dilated nostrils, muscle weakness, and incoordination.

Photo: Vince Caligiur

Photo: Vince Caligiur

2. Sunburn Protection

Just like us, horses are also prone to sunburn, especially horses with pink skin, e.g. noses, under the tail, blazes and socks. Exposed skin after clipping out white socks or blazes is particularly susceptible. In summer, it is time to slip, slop and slap a zinc oxide cream to sensitive areas on the horse and extra protection with a nose shield for our pink-nosed equines.

3. Shade & Shelter

Providing shade to horses during the harsh summer climate in Australia is a given, and the type of shelter you provide will depend on your local climate conditions. Trees offer natural shade, but keep in mind as the sun moves, so does the shade. There are various portable or permanent shade options, from shade sails to a more permanent fixture, depending on your personal preference.

4. Pest Control

It is a fact of life that horses and flies come hand in hand, particularly over the summer months. While flies are irritant to us all, they can affect our equine friends, resulting in horses stamping and kicking out which, of course, can cause injury. Mosquitoes are particularly active during summer and will congregate towards lights and water sources. Mosquitoes often carry disease, which can cause severe illness or neurological conditions that can be fatal. Pest control is critical during summer; spray stables, apply insect repellent on exposed areas, cover your horse with a light cotton rug and neck rug and, if necessary, fly boots.

Photo: Mat Reding - Unsplash

Photo: Mat Reding - Unsplash

5. Fresh, Clean Water 24/7

Understanding your horse's normal water intake will help you ensure your horse is hydrated. On average, a horse will consume between 20 to 50 litres of water in 24 hours, and circumstances such as climate and living conditions will impact water intake. A horse stabled on concentrated feed and forage will usually consume more water than a horse on pasture, as some moisture content is picked up from pasture. Access to a free choice salt lick is an inexpensive aid to provide extra sodium and chloride to encourage a horse to drink.

6. Stabling & Ventilation

Ideally, during high temperatures, a horse is most comfortable out grazing in a shaded paddock. If stabling is unavoidable, ensure there is sufficient ventilation within the horse’s living environment, letting the air flow as free as possible. Remove all cotton rugs, hoods and/or neck rugs and provide cool freshwater with plastic water ice blocks to keep the water cool. Check on stabled horses throughout the day to ensure freshwater is topped up, and the stabled horse is not suffering from heat stress or dehydration.

7. Feeding

As summer dries pasture, feeding requirements must be altered accordingly. Adding concentrates and grains will all depend on your horse’s individual work requirements and personal needs.

Good quality forage in the form of hay fed ad-lib is essential for roughage requirements and digestion. Add a good quality electrolyte to ensure hydration.

Dampening feeds will assist in providing a horse with additional moisture during summer. Do not dampen and leave feeds - dampen and feed immediately to ensure feeds do not go rancid.

Be mindful and check that stored sweet feeds do not sweat and spoil.

8. Travelling in Summer

Wherever possible, avoid transporting a horse in the heat of the day. Instead, begin your trip early in the morning or the cool of the evening. If unavoidable, take as many steps as possible to reduce the risk of heat stress and/or travel sickness that can lead to fatality.

Check there is ample ventilation in the horse box, including opening windows and air vents for as much airflow as possible. Remove rugs while travelling and weigh up the risk of removing protective bandages and boots that add additional heat to the horse — the more exposed skin to the air, the better.

Have regular rest stops. Unload the horse in a safe location, ideally in a shady area, offer water and allow the horse to pick at grass to clear airways. Following competition, let the horse completely cool down before loading to travel home.

Hydration is vital. If you have a fussy drinker, travel with your water from home. Sweating causes the loss of water and electrolytes from the body; therefore, it is important to feed electrolyte supplements as part of a feeding regime to assist in hydration. If this is not part of your horse's feeding regime, start adding electrolytes at least seven days before travel.

9. The Compromised

Be vigilant for the welfare of seniors or horses with compromised health, e.g. Cushing's patients.

Horses with underlying medical conditions or with age do not cope with extreme temperatures.

Horses with Cushing's, and often senior citizens, do not shed their winter coats during summer. Body clipping to remove winter coats will provide comfort to the horse and allow the monitoring and assessment of any potential skin conditions. It will also assist in gauging body condition and adjusting feed accordingly.

10. Hydration Test

To test your horse's hydration, familiarise yourself with these simple tests.

Gently pinch the skin of your horse's neck or shoulder and pull the skin into a raised tent-like formation. Release the pinched skin, and within one second, it should flatten back into place for an average hydrated horse. If the skin does not flatten after two seconds, the horse is mildly dehydrated. If the skin does not flatten after four seconds, the horse could be severely dehydrated, and veterinary attention is required.

The second test is capillary refill. Lift the horse's upper lip and firmly press your finger against the horse's gum for approximately five seconds. Release pressure to the gum; a white mark will appear on the gum. This white mark should return to a healthy pink colour within two seconds. If it does not, the horse is dehydrated and may require veterinary attention.

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