How do you keep your horses from overheating during sweltering summers? This article discusses how to prevent overheating in horses, and how to bring a little bit of relief to your herd when summer highs hit the triple digits and when summer nights bring little reprieve from the heat.
First, a few basic tips to help your horses stay cool:
Make sure every horse can get to water, shade, and salt.
Make sure your horses can get to a shaded area and have plenty of water. These might sound like obvious tips but it’s actually something you want to pay close attention to during the heat of the summer. Even if the horse can physically access shade and water, you may need to pay extra attention to herd dynamics during this time of year. Is there an alpha horse in the herd that might keep a lower ranking horse from using the shade or accessing water? If you have a horse that is bullied you might need to give it special care during the heat of the summer.
If horses are sweating through the day and into the night they might drink far more water than usual, and they will need more salt to replace the electrolytes lost through sweating. Make sure that you are filling the water buckets or water troughs regularly and checking on them more often to ensure that they stay full. If your salt block is getting small or is looking unappealing, you may want to go ahead and replace the salt lick with a new one to encourage the horses to take in as much salt as they need to balance their excess sweating.
Tricks to Encourage Horses to Drink Water:
Refill troughs more often
You may want to empty and refill large troughs more often in the summer. Large reservoirs of water will heat up to the ambient temperature, making it less appealing for horses to drink. If you dump and refresh the water regularly, the water will stay cooler and most horses will drink a little more. Many of our tips for keeping water troughs from freezing in the winter actually work well to keep troughs cooler, more refreshing, and slower to grow algae in warm summer months.
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If your horses are drinking much more you’ll need to be paying attention to electrolytes. Most horses, most of the time don’t need additional electrolytes, supplementing them can potentially do harm. But if your horse is sweating intensely for long periods due to exercise or summer heat you may want to add electrolytes. They can be purchased online or at feed stories and added as a supplement to feed, but in the summer months, we prefer to offer electrolytes via Gatorade. Gatorade single-serve packets are a great way to add some electrolytes to a bucket at home or on the road.
Soak hay to boost water intake
One sneaky way to boost water intake is to soak your horse’s feed. Grain-type feeds can be soaked for anywhere from 10 minutes to several hours before feeding, but pelleted feeds will turn to mash if soaked (which may be unpalatable to some horses). If you are feeding hay during the heat of the summer ( placing horses in indoor stalls with hay during the heat of the day is a great way to combat potential overheating) you can soak their hay before feeding. Soaking hay reduces dust and ensures that the horses are getting a little more water to replenish the water they are losing from sweating.
Other ways to Keep Horses Cool
You can’t bring your horses in the air-conditioned indoors, but you can help give them relief. Try freezing 2-liter bottles filled with water. These giant “ice cubes” can be added to the trough to lower the water temperature and (for particularly curious horses) provide some playful distraction.
Sprinkler: In the wild cooling sometimes comes when horses swim in a large water source and then letting the water evaporate. The evaporating action helps remove heat from the coat. You can help your horses get the cooling action of evaporative cooling by simply setting up a sprinkler in your pasture. A sprinkler running for an hour or so during the heat of the day can help cool your horses down, provide stimulation for the herd, and help desensitize horses to having a startle response to sprinklers. As a bonus – if you move the sprinkler a bit each day – it can help your pasture grass grow a little faster.
Mist systems: Cooling mist systems are also growing in popularity and can help lower the temperature of a barn.
It is worth noting, however, that evaporative cooling only works effectively in areas with low humidity. In the high humidity of the US South, evaporative cooling can backfire. In a humid climate, the high humidity in the ambient air makes evaporation very slow. Using a cooling mist system in high humidity may actually make horses hotter by creating a layer of moisture that remains on the coat and insulates instead of evaporating.
Fans – There are lots of options to cool your barn off a bit during the summer. While you may not be able to climate control the space, you can add creature comforts ranging from box fans – which can cool a stall up to 15° – to supersize overhead fans that can cool an entire barn or indoor arena.
These tips can help you and your horse survive and thrive in the warmest temperatures of the summer and stay safe, comfortable, and ready to enjoy your next trail ride, horse show, or adventure!