This is a routine we have established through trial and error over the years for when the temperature rises above 35 degrees. We are flexible in how we do things and are always looking for ways to increase our horses comfort so if you have suggestions to share with everyone, they are welcome. Your experiences welcome, arguments not.
Because hot days are comparatively few, we do not have a block of stables equipped with fans on each stall or even air conditioning that would allow horses to keep cool inside and go out at night. So, like many other horse owners we figured out a system that works best with what facilities we have.
The three things we are not flexible over are SHADE, AIR and WATER
When the temperature closes on 35 we remove all summer rugs/fly sheets except for fly bonnets. We remove leg protections and anything that will stress our horses by making them hotter and sweatier.
We know its time to remove sun/fly sheets if the horses are sweating or on the contrary not sweating at all while very hot underneath them. It means they are unable to dissipate the heat building up in their bodies.
We leave fly masks on because their construction allows for more ventilation but we check our horses faces for signs that the fly bonnets are too hot throughout the day.
Our veterinary practice, The Vet Practice is adamant that rugs and sun sheets are no substitute for shade. This past week, they have seen horses in 44-45 degree celsius (111-113 degree Fahrenheit and up) trying to escape their shelter and shadeless paddocks by climbing fences.
For horses, this is life threatening heat. Enclosed shelters with no shade, or shelters that offer no ventilation are not an option either.
At La Mancha, we have day paddocks with and without shelters and trees.
Above 35 or under, if the weather is hot and breeze-less, we only use paddocks with trees which offer good shade and ventilation to horses.
In this case, when possible, we will put horses we know get along together so they can fan each other and keep the flies of each other.
We also use fly and mozzie spray, re-applied throughout the day to make up for the lack of fly sheet.
We use generous amounts of zinc oxyde on pink noses and exposed delicate areas. Sunburns on their noses are very painful for horses. They use them to scratch, immerse them to drink and use them to sift through feed or graze so we should be careful to protect them.
We are vigilant over water and refresh the water buckets regularly, topping them off with cool water. When we pair up new horses, we are careful to have more then one water point so both horses have access without fuss or fight.
On average, when the weather is cool, a horse needs roughly 18-27 liters of water a day (five to seven gallons) this quantity can go up to 20 gallons or 75 liters a day to make up for sweat losses. That is a lot of water.
Since our horses work vigorously, throughout the year they receive a scoop of KER Restore. When it is very hot, Chantelle ups the ration accordingly.
Chantelle also uses water boots on some of the horses whose feet can get too dry with the heat. While there has been discussion about the benefit of soaking hooves we think there are two benefits to them.
One is foot health. Our friend, Dr. Fiona Mead, an equine vet who practices in New Zealand agreed with the practice stating that:” The soaking of hooves in water is currently debated as to efficacy but wild horses will often stand in drinking hole water while they drink and laminae when hydrated creates better connection to the hoof wall and reduce hoof wall separation and white line disease and infection.”
Second is the fact that there is a pulse point at the back of the fetlock and when fresh water runs over it, it helps cool the whole body, just like it helps when we run our wrists under cool water.
You can put some cooling liniment or a drop of peppermint oil on the back of the fetlock to amp up the cooling effect. Check for a reaction on a small segment of skin first.
Running cool water over fetlocks and replenishing water boots is easy to do a few times a day to help horses stay comfortable.
We hose down our horses if they become very hot. The issue with hosing the horses when they are hot is that as the water comes into contact with the hot skin, it heats up and does not freshen up the horse unless it is scraped away until the horse has cooled down and the water that runs over its body remains cool too.
We do not ride our horses when the weather hits these highs because they are not conditioned for this kind of heat. It does not happen often enough that it is an issue for us.
In “normal” summer weather, we will either ride very early before the sun rises or very late at night when the earth has cooled down enough, the air is fresh(er) and the horses can work and sweat without it creating a health hazard.
Heat is dangerous. It can cause colics and heart and lung distress so if your horse is acting abnormally and depressed, unable or unwilling to move, sweating profusely or looking distressed without sweating, or has a high heart rate. Call your vet.
There is another thing Manolo is adamant about heat and no just high heat and that is that babies not be placed in paddocks with no shade. He believes it is not healthy for a baby to lie in the relentless sun and has noticed through a lifetime of experience differences between young horses raised with shade and others. It is one of this anecdotal thing that science may be able to elucidate someday. In the meantime, it is a good idea to keep babies out of the radiant sun if they have no access to shade.
Finally, we do not just look at our horses to gauge how they are doing. We touch them. We look at their eye, we check their respiration and we get a sense up close as to how they are feeling and wether its time for another bath, if they are hot but content or if we have problem brewing. When in doubt, we call our vet.