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Care of Horses in Hot Weather

Managing horses during hot weather can be a challenge for horse
owners. Horse owners need to provide extra care during hot weather in
order to decrease stress and maintain health and well-being of the
horse. Normally, horses cool themselves by sweating and a horse
that is working hard in a hot environment can lose 7 to 15 liters of
sweat per hour.

Heat stress has a negative impact on
feed intake, and most horses will not voluntary consume as much
feedstuffs on hot days, similar to humans and other livestock. The
change in metabolism, coupled with the likely reduced feed intake, can
result in body weight loss, most specifically muscle protein. It is
critical to track feed intake and body condition and weight during hot
weather, especially for thin, older, and younger horses. If body
condition or weight loss is observed, contact an equine nutritionist or
veterinarian for assistance

To help reduce the effects of heat and keep horses comfortable:

  • If possible provide turnout during cooler times of the day (early in the morning, late at night, or overnight).
  • Provide relief from the sun through access to shade from trees or
  • Watch for signs of sunburn, especially on white or light-colored areas; use masks and sunscreen.
  • Ensure access to clean, cool water at all times. Depending on feed, an adult horse in a
    cool climate will normally drink 22 to 40 liters of water each day
    while at rest, and much more while working or in hot conditions.
  • Water buckets and tanks may need to be cleaned more regularly in
    hot weather as algae and bacteria grow rapidly in warm water. 
  • Free choice access to salt will encourage drinking. Loose salt is preferred over a salt block.
  • Consider providing electrolytes to horses that have been sweating
    heavily or are expected to do so. Only use electrolytes that are
    formulated for horses.
  • Reduce riding intensity and length; heat stress can affect any
    horse but is especially common in older, obese and out of condition
    horses. Young foals also tend to be more prone to heat stress and
  • Clip horses with long hair coats (i.e. horses with Cushing’s disease) to enhance cooling.
  • Transport horses during the coolest part of the day and ensure that
    trailers are well ventilated and offer water frequently..
  • Horses with anhidrosis have little or no ability to produce sweat; these horses are prime candidates for heat stress.

It is recommended to avoid riding a horse when the combined
temperature and relative humidity are excessive. If a horse
must be ridden during hot and humid weather, or you live in an area
where hot and humid weather is prevalent, it is essential to:

  • Adjust your schedule (ride early in the morning or late at night).
  • Keep the work light and include frequent breaks that allow the
    horse to cool down and regain a normal respiratory rate. Do not work
    the horse beyond its fitness level. 
  • Watch for normal sweating.
  • Create airflow and work the horse in shade when possible.
  • Provide access to cool, clean water at all times and offer water
    frequently during work. There is no reason to withhold water from a hot
  • Call a veterinarian immediately if your horse stops producing sweat,
    breathes heavily, or becomes lethargic, distressed or uncoordinated.

To cool an overheated horse,
spray or sponge the horse’s head, back, neck, rump, and legs with cool
water and immediately scrape the water off, repeating continuously until
the horse is cool. This is an effective cooling method
because heat is transferred from the horse’s muscles and skin to the
water, which is then removed to cool the horse.
It is critical
to scrape the warmed water off immediately, or the water may serve as
insulation and might actually increase the horse’s body temperature.

Adding ice to the water will increase the speed of cooling for very
hot horses, Ice baths have been found to reduce
core body temperature and lower heart rates after intense exercise, and
horses were also observed trotting more freely after an ice bath. If a
horse is prone to tying up, do not directly apply ice water to the
large gluteal muscles in the hind end, but focus on areas where blood
vessels are more superficial (i.e. head, neck, back and rib area).
Finally, do not place a sheet or blanket on the horse while trying to
cool it. Rugging will block the evaporation of water from the skin
and is not recommended during hot and humid conditions.

Prolonged exposure to high temperatures can result in heat stress,
heat stroke, and complications such as dehydration, muscle spasms, and

Signs of heat stress include a rectal
temperature greater than 103°F, increased heart and respiration rates,
profuse sweating, droopy ears, signs of fatigue, and dehydration with a
prolonged skin tent of several seconds when the skin of the neck or
shoulders is pinched. Horses worked hard in extreme heat
and/or humidity may go on to develop signs of heat stroke, a very
serious overheating condition in which rectal temperature rises above

Signs of heat stroke include rapid heart and respiratory rates
that do not drop within 20 minutes of stopping exercise,
whinnying and distress, marked dehydration with dry mucous membranes and
a prolonged skin tent of 4 to 10 seconds, marked muscle weakness,
incoordination, and collapse.

Articles sourced from University of Minnesota

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