You should be aware and concerned with horses overheating in the summer. It happens. Most of the time, mild cases can be easily remedied. But you need to recognize when it’s happening. There are various signs and symptoms that range from a mild lethargic attitude to profuse sweating, or even worse – no sweating.
The Most Important Tool
The ultimate check involves one handy tool to gauge your horse’s condition – a thermometer. It is helpful to know what your horse’s normal temperature is at rest (99-101 degrees F). You should also know his resting pulse (28-44 beats per minute) and respiration (10-24 breaths per minute), and even his normal slightly elevated temperature (104-105 degrees F) right after he is done working. Have them written down in your tack room and saddle bag. Quick recovery and return to normal temperature and other vital signs is also a confirmation that your conditioning and exercising program is right for your horse.
Symptoms of Overheating
Overheating is serious, and if you don’t have a thermometer handy watch for other symptoms. The signs can include a heart rate over 60 beats per minute, blowing hard, standing without showing any interest in what’s going on, weakness, and no interest in grazing. Your horse’s skin may feel hot and dry; his gums may appear pale and dry with slow capillary refill time (more than 3 seconds); a weak, irregular pulse; and no gut sounds, among others. All these symptoms require you to take action. Two veterinarians have written that contrary to warnings not to do so, it is ok to hose the horse’s head, neck and back with cold water and then scrape off the excess to cool him down. It is very important to scrape off the water, otherwise his body will heat the water and he may get even hotter. Get him in the shade. Offer him some cool clear water and walk him, hose again, sweat scrape again, more water, repeat until he recovers. In extreme cases, a veterinarian is required to administer treatment to replace fluids and administer other medications.
Horses that are out of shape or overweight are more prone to overheating. Use common sense when it’s hot. Try to ride in the morning and evenings when it’s cool. Take plenty of breaks; seek out the shade; and be sure to have access to water. When riding in and out of the shade and sun keep up your pace in the sun and allow your horse to cool in the shade. Sponging at every available water source is critically important in hot weather because water is an excellent conductor of heat. Cool water will instantly transfer heat to itself, pulling it from the horse’s skin and, in turn, cooling the body. However, for the cooling to be effective, the sponging must be continuous so that fresh cool water is constantly replacing the used, warm water. Supplement your horse with electrolytes during the hot months. Be extra watchful for signs of overheating when you exercise at speed, during prolonged riding times, and hill climbing which can all heat up a horse very quickly.
Advancement in Cooling Materials
Horses sweat to maintain their core body temperature; therefore, when riding, it is important to use materials that do not interfere with this process. The development of cooling products, in particular saddle pads to prevent overheating under the saddle has taken leaps and bounds forward in recent years. Fabrics have been developed that breathe to help alleviate heat buildup under the saddle.
Saddle Pads with Cooling Technology
Matrix Saddle Pads by Toklat – Toklat has developed what they call “etc™ Fabric.” It provides a non-slip surface with grip and because it is anti-friction, heat buildup is minimized. It is a highly breathable fabric because air circulates through the hollow fur fiber and passes through the woven backing as well.
HAF Equitation Saddle Pads, Splint Boots and Ankle Boots – HAF Equitation USA has its origin in endurance riding and continues to support this sport. In endurance, the quick evaporation of heat from the horse’s back is critical. This is accomplished with the HAF pads Airflo system with breathable Sympanova lining. The Sympanova lining looks like rubbery honeycomb membrane. The semi-sphere shape of the surface allows your horse’s skin to breath and enables normal sweating to keep him cool. HAF also makes splint boots and ankle boots with the same cooling Sympanova fabric. It’s a great improvement over neoprene horse boots that can really heat up their legs.
EquiPedic Saddle Pads – The Equipedic Pad can actually lower the body surface temperature of your horse. The materials used were originally developed by NASA and absorbs excess body heat, reducing sweat. The saddle pad’s underside is lined with breathable natural wool felt and the top is a breathable uncoated 1000 denier Cordura® to further promote ventilation.
Being aware of the symptoms of overheating will lead to taking steps to prevent and abate it. Using products with new cooling technologies can help keep you and your horse comfortable all summer long.