Eyes closed, ears back (so no water goes in), and lips open for a little drink!


Err... I mean, after you're done with your trot (and canter and walk).

It's the middle of summer here and the heat is all-pervasive. On the hottest days, many of us stop in at the barn just to hose down the horses to give them a little extra comfort.

I tend to make my rides considerably shorter on hot days, depending on how my horse feels. However, during the time that I do ride, I still ask for energy and impulsion, helping my horse do his best to move in a healthy manner and carry my weight properly. In other words, I don't let the ride become a "plod along and flop" episode just because of the heat.

Assuming all goes well, and the horse feels fine, I'll ride for up to a half hour, with some (stretchy) walk in between. Sometimes it feels fine to ride in the heat if you keep moving - it's only when you stop that you can feel the true strength of the sun beating down on you and your horse.

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Here are a few ideas to keep you and your horse cool during these dog horse days of summer.

1. Watch for signs of overheating.

In your own case, you can tell the beginning of overheating by how hot your face feels. Know how red your face gets and what that means. Some people get a seriously red face and it's normal for them. I usually don't get a lot of change so a red face for me means that I'm moving into the overheating stage. I can also feel it while I'm riding - if I feel like the heat is radiating off my face, I know to call it a day. I've also been known to grab the hose and soak my whole head and face with cold water. That usually does the trick.

In the case of your horse, you can monitor several signs. Keep track of his breathing. If his sides seem to be heaving a lot sooner and with less work, take it easy.

Sweating is a key component of cooling down in the summer, so if you don't see sweat coming from your horse, you can be worried! Do you know that horses don't have the ability to pant like dogs? So they must rely on losing heat through their skin. Sweat helps to cool down the horse's internal body temperature by carrying heat out with sweat through the pores - creating a fairly efficient cooling system when considering the large muscle mass of horses.

Sometimes, the sweat builds up to the point that you see foam on the neck, between the hind legs, or on the face. If your horse starts foaming quicker than usual, pay attention. People have often been told that only unconditioned horses foam when worked. That isn't exactly true. Even the fittest horses, who are used to working in heat, can foam any time there is an increase in heat and humidity or level of work. Foam isn't all bad, but be aware of what is usual for your horse.

Also keep an eye out for other signs. If your horse seems to become lethargic, or loses focus easier than usual, then consider calling it a day.

2. Modify your ride.

Consider your options.

Ride earlier in the day, or later in the evening. Stay out of the sun in the middle of the day when it's hottest.

If you can't change your schedule, you can always decide to make it a shorter ride. 

You could stay in the indoor ring if you have one. The roof over your head will give enough shade, although in some arenas and depending on the breeze (or lack thereof), the heat might just stay in and make you feel like you're in an oven.

Or go for that ride on the trails that you've wanted to do. Riding under the trees and in the woods is a completely different experience although you should keep the humidity factor in mind.

3. After the ride.

Your after care can make all the difference.

Remember that sweat is filled with electrolytes and the various forms of salt that are expelled stick to your horse's skin. Just as you wouldn't want to walk around sticky and feeling a burning sensation in your salt-encrusted skin, so does your horse deserve a nice cool down and wash off before you leave him for the day.

Grab the hose and give him a full-body hose-down. Make sure you run the water over all the sweat areas, and wait until the sweat suds have all been washed off. Get underneath the top layer of the coat and clear out the mud that sticks to the skin.

Hose the front of the chest, the belly and between the front and hind legs. Those are all arterial areas and so they carry the highest amount of heat. Just running cold water on those areas helps considerably with the horse's inner body temperature. Make sure that you finish by scraping all the excess water off the horse's body. 

I like to finish off by running a light stream of water over my horse's face. This takes a little repetition for the horse to get used to, and you might need to have a secure area to tie him to when you start to teach him. But I can tell you that once the horse knows how good a face wash can feel when he's hot, he'll learn to appreciate it. My horse now knows to point his face directly into the hose and let the water hit his forehead. He closes his eyes and licks the water as it drips down over his face!

How do you deal with riding during the hottest days of the year? Share your ideas below in the comments.

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One Comment

  1. Those are good tips. 🙂

    I take my horses to the beach as we regularly get days in excess of 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit). We make sure our trips are early morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the horses overheating on the trips. They love swimming and playing in the water.
    After harder workouts or when they are sweating heavily, they get given electrolytes.
    On the days when it is too hot to ride, I will turn the sprinklers on them and they stand under them to cool off.