Is Your Horse Hot?

Is Your Horse Hot?

Did you know horses are less heat tolerant than humans? So when you feel you’re getting overheated your horse probably feels the same way.

As horse owners it’s important to know the normal vital sign ranges for your horse. The normal body temperatures range for a horse is 99-101.5F. Horses produce heat through exercise, digestion and metabolism.

Many factors play a role in the horse’s ability to regulate body temperature and tolerate heat. The air temperature, humidity, wind, exposure to the sun, age, coat condition, body conditioning, fitness level and pre-existing health issues can affect a horse’s ability to thermoregulate. Senior horses, foals, obese and unfit horses can be less heat tolerant.

During exercise a horse’s muscles contact producing a lot of heat. In hot, humid weather it only takes 17 -18 minutes of moderate exercise to overheat a horse.

One way horses cool their body is with sweat. The evaporation of the sweat from a horse’s skin can help decrease 50-60% of their excess body heat. During strenuous work on hot days, a horse can lose 2-4 gallons of sweat per hour, depleting electrolytes and fluids. If not managed could lead to dehydration. 

Heat Stress and Stoke:

Heat stress or heat stroke can occur when a horse gets severely overheated. It is important to watch for signs of heat stress, so it doesn’t progress to heat stroke.

  • Increase heart rate at rest 
  • Excessive sweating with hot skin
  • High Rectal Temperature 103-107 degrees
  • Exhaustion or lethargy
  • Rapid breathing and flared nostrils
  • Stumbling and Incoordination
  • Dehydration
  • Agitation
  • Collapse
  • Shock

If a horse’s core body temperature exceeds 105.5 degrees muscle proteins can break down and can cause colic, renal failure or low blood pressure.      

What to do

  • Stop all physical activities and get your horse somewhere cool and walk in shaded area
  • Check horse’s temperature
  • Start cooling immediately: hose or sponge with cold water
  • If heat stroke is suspected use ice pack or ice water to cool head, neck, chest, back and inside of hind legs to cool major blood vessels
  • Supplements can be added to water to help replace electrolytes loss from sweating
  • Contact a veterinarian immediately if the symptoms do not improve or get worse. They may administer IV fluids to help replace depleted water and electrolytes.

Tips to help your horse handle the heat

  • Consider the heat index (air temperature + relative humidity) when working your horse
  • Heat index below 130 considered safe to exercise most horses
  • Heat index over 150 should avoid strenuous exercise

Heat index above 170 or if the humidity is over 75% limit exercise-consider working during the coolest part of the day such as in morning or late evening

  1. During exercise take breaks to monitor your horse’s physical condition, you may have to modify your exercise program
  2. While hauling long distances: check horse frequently, offer water whenever you stop, be aware of increased temperature in the trailer because of reduced airflow. If possible, haul during coolest times of the day.
  3. When moving to a warmer climate allow your horse time to acclimate to warmer weather
  4. If a horse’s coat is long clipping it will help with body cooling
  5. Use fans to improve ventilation and air flow in barns and paddocks
  6. Give horses access to clean, cool water at all times

Contact your veterinarian immediately if your horse shows signs of heat stress or heat stroke.

It’s important to know the signs, what to do and how to minimize the risk of heat related issues with your horse, so you can have a safe and enjoyable summer with your horse!!