Avoiding heat stress

Horses standing in the sun without shade or breeze will very rapidly accumulate heat. Even at rest, once the temperature reaches above 37 degrees a horse’s core temperature will rise unless it is actively cooled.

Below are a few tips to keep your horse cool during hot weather and avoid heat stress:

  • Ensure your horse has access to plenty of shade or ideally a shelter with good circulation, a fan and/or air conditioning
  • Horses rely on evaporative cooling through sweating to maintain body temperature so it is essential to ensure additional water is made available for your horse to replace those lost fluids and to avoid dehydration
  • Ensure your horse has access to salt and electrolytes to replace those lost through sweating, a salt lick is ideal, or electrolytes added to water – but make sure there is clean fresh water
  • Avoid riding or strenuous exercise such as jumping and prolonged training sessions during the hottest period of the day (11am-4pm)
  • Try not to exercise your horse on non-grassed outdoor surfaces
  • Avoid transporting a horse in an enclosed float or truck without adequate ventilation
  • Pay particular attention to overweight horses as they are less able to dispel heat, and young foals as they cannot yet thermoregulate properly
  • If your horse does seem to be suffering from the heat, using cool water, bathe or hose the insides of the legs, and the head and neck where the blood vessels are close to the surface. Continuously apply and scrape away the water until the horse’s skin feels cool to the touch
  • Do not drape wet towels over the head and neck as it can serve to trap heat in rather than allowing it to escape.

Signs of heat stress in horses include rapid shallow breathing with flared nostrils, distress and agitation, a ‘staggery’ uncontrollable gait, and possibly collapse.

If you believe your horse is overheated, call your vet immediately as they may require intravenous fluids and other first aid treatment.

An excellent guide to the management of risks in performance horse competition is Equestrian Australia’s Hot Weather Policy