It is ridiculously, unbearably hot and dry here in Oklahoma. In fact, Stillwater made Yahoo! headlines yesterday because of our record-breaking heat. The ranch is seriously starting to look like a desert. The horses are miserable, and so am I. What ever happened to getting all your riding in during the summer and enjoying the warmth? This is not warm. This is blistering. Sweltering. Sizzling. You get the point. But just in case you don’t, I’ll try to paint a picture for you of exactly how hot it is. You know how it feels when you open the oven door while baking a cake and you get a blast of hot air in your face? That’s how it feels when I drive the gator between barns at feeding time. I’m pretty sure my eyebrows get singed off.
Needless to say, I’ve really had to “cowgirl up” while working in the barn this summer. Horses are still hungry, they still poop in their stalls, and hay still has to be stocked despite the soaring temperatures. Here are some things I do around the barns to keep our horses healthy during summers like these, and maybe you could use them yourself.
1. Try to keep your horse cool by hosing him off frequently and then putting him immediately under a fan. Don’t forget to scrape all the excess water off your horse before putting them up. If you don’t squeegee the extra water, it will just sit on top of the horse’s coat and get hot, totally defeating the purpose in the first place. You want to aid in the evaporation process. Also, I’ve found it really helps to pay special attention to the groin area while hosing. Because of the intense blood flow in this area, the more you concentrate on cooling it the more your horse will feel cool all over.
2. Start your horse on electrolytes, especially if you’re still riding during the heat or going to shows. There are many options to choose from, so do your research. You can also replace lost salt with plain table salt and salt blocks if your horse doesn’t care for store-bought electrolytes. Some people even use Gatorade, which can especially come in handy if you’re transporting your horse during heat because the sweet flavoring will help them transition to new water.
3. Keep water buckets and tanks as clean as possible and always have clean, cool water readily available.This is a no-brainer.
4. Only ride in the early morning or late evening. Lately, I have quit riding past 10 A.M. because even in the evening here in the temperatures can still be in the 90s. Use good judgement.
5. When you’re done riding, walk your horse in a relaxed manner until you are sure they have cooled down properly. It’s even better to dismount, loosen your girth, and walk the horse by hand until they’ve come to a normal breathing rate and are no longer hot.
6. To prevent colic, do not feed your horse right before or right after exercise.
7. Lower your horse’s feed intake, if possible, or change their feed to a highly digestible fiber source. Heat is generated when high fiber food goes through the horse’s gut, this includes high fiber grass hay. If possible, change some of your hay out for a more digestible hay, such as alfalfa. You can also just ration the hay instead of feeding free-choice. If you decide to lower your horse’s feed intake, consider swapping out the carbohydrate calories found in fortified grains for fat. Fats are very easy to digest and do not produce excess heat.
8. Know your horse well. That way, if something is wrong you’ll be able to spot it right away. If your horse has a high breathing rate, a fever, appears dehydrated, or has a high pulse, and is exhibiting unusual signs of discomfort (tail swishing, lethargy, stiffness, shaking) then you need to cool your horse down immediately. They might be suffering from heat exhaustion.