Saturday, August 6, 2011

Horses and Extreme Heat

It is only a few more months until we can enjoy winter, although this type of fun, as my mother and grandfather were able to enjoy in 1940's McMurray, Pennsylvania, is elusive to those of us stuck in Florida!

Tucker, Imp and Tyke, grazing reluctantly in the evening heat.

My horses are wimps. They are like me: they simply do not like the heat. And unfortunately for all of us, we happen to live in Florida, where heat is something we must deal with for at least half of the year.
My horses do not want to go outside anymore. They have become the ultimate couch potato. If I ever had to do a long term stall rest, I would not have any complaints from them! They are inside during the heat of the day, fans blowing on them. They have hay in front of them. Fresh, cool and clean water. Deeply bedded stalls. And when evening arrives and the temperatures drop to, oh, 88-89 degrees, they don't want to leave those stalls. It is like having a 1200 pound teenager who doesn't want to leave their tv, computer and unlimited food supply to venture out into the real world!
After dinner time, we turn the horses out. In the winter and fall, we can simply open their stall doors and stand back as they rush out into the field. Nowadays, however, we have to walk them out and if we aren't quick enough to close the gate back into the barn, they will run us down as they try to rush back into their stalls. Even when the weather doesn't cooperate and they have spent nearly 24 hours in their stalls due to heat and storms, trying to get them out in the morning for a few hours is like trying to budge an elephant. And once we get them out? They stand there at the gate, giving pathetic looks. Trying to convince us that they are going to either melt in the 82 degrees heat or the bugs will devour them. It is ridiculous!
Most of America is under extreme heat warnings right now. Hard to believe, but there are places in the north where it is even hotter than in Central Florida.
The good news for them is, it won't last too long, unlike here in Florida, where we are just a little more than half way through our heat. So how should one cope with the heat?

Ride in the Coolest Part of the Day!

As I stated, I hate the heat. As I get older, I despise it even more. A northern girl, I have always preferred the winter. I would rather bundle up and get warm than to sweat and stink and stay hot. We have experienced record cold winters in Florida the last few years, and I loved it!
For me, our summers are like the north's winters. Horsemen in the north find their riding days limited during winter months, unless they have access to an indoor arena or can head south to show. So for me, I simply limit my riding. I have to ride very early in the morning. This means getting up at 5:30 and riding by 7am. I don't ride long. Just enough to keep Tucker and myself somewhat in shape and fresh. I don't do a whole lot of extreme cross country jumping. Instead, I focus on doing lateral work...leg yields, turn on the haunches and forehand, and we are practicing walking on a loose rein. Now is the time to practice for horse trials in the fall and to work on our dressage!
Another good idea is to hose your horse off before you start to ride. This helps to keep him cool, especially if he has trouble sweating or is a draft cross like Tucker. Did I mention he hates the heat as much as I do?
Pay attention to the heat index. There are several available online, including
Know what your horses limits are as well as your own. If either of you are out of condition, or as I mentioned, a draft or draft-x like Tucker, the heat will take an even heavier toll on you.
Drink lots of water, before, during and after. Make sure your horse has access to water and give him water breaks frequently.
Dress appropriately! There are so many options for hot weather riding! As horrible as it sounds, wear long sleeve shirts as well as sun screen! My favorite shirt is this:
Jackie's shirts keep you cool, they are fashionable enough to wear out to dinner or shopping, and they offer UV protection.
For breeches, several companies make several styles that leave you dry and help wick moisture away: and

So what about your partner?

As I mentioned, mine are inside during the heat of the day, fans blowing on them. When you consider a fan for the barn, invest in a good quality metal fan. Household box fans are not safe for barns, and there have been recalls over the past few years involving Lasko fans, which have caught fire. Make sure you utilize outdoor extension cords and that the fan and cords are not accessible to the horse. has a good selection of fans.
Cool, fresh water is essential! Horses colic in the winter due to their water troughs being frozen over and inaccessible. I have a feeling that a lot of summer colics are also the result of horses not drinking enough. I am flabbergasted at the number of farms that I have been to where outdoor water troughs are hot and dirty. Even inside, extreme temperatures can heat up water buckets. If you can not refill buckets during the day, I suggest adding ice to at least one bucket. Horses should have at least 2 buckets. Imp has 3. Know what your horses drinking habits are. I do not like the idea of using muck-style buckets for water in the horses stalls: they take up a lot of room, being low on the ground makes them get dirty easier and if the horse doesn't drink all of that water, they are heavy to empty and clean....yes, water buckets should be dumped DAILY! They should be scrubbed at least weekly, more if you have a horse that is prone to dunking his hay or otherwise getting his bucket dirty.
If your horse needs electrolytes or salt, be sure they have access to it either in feed, water or in loose form.

As I mentioned above, make sure you and your horse are in top condition. If you are competing, make sure your horse has adjusted to the heat. When I used to compete in the summer, I rode my horse during the heat of the day, so that we were both used to the heat and didn't pass out at shows. Know what weather conditions are like if you are planning on traveling out of state. Years ago, at the 2004 USPC Champs in Lexington, Kentucky, the temps were perfect for the southern region teams, with highs in the 70's and nights in the 50's. Our kids were teased because they put sheets on their horses at night! Yet for teams from the northernmost states, the humidity (humidity? It was about 50%....come to Florida and see what 100% humidity is like!) really bothered them! It was funny to talk to these competitors and to compare their impression of the weather (too hot) to ours (perfect!). Needless to say, I think the southern horses were better suited at that competition!
August is just getting started...for some, the extreme heat has given way already to normal summer temps. For us in Florida, we have at least 2 months of heat to deal with. But fall is just around the corner, and with that, perfect riding and showing weather! Hang in there!