Horses Competing In The Heat
Competing in the heat: While summer is one of the best times to get out competing, the weather can make it a lot more difficult than it should be. No, we’re not talking about rain, we’re talking about heat!
With temperatures of up to 38 degrees celcius this summer, owners are understandably worried about the impact these hot temperatures can have on their horses.
Unsure how to make competitions comfortable for your horse when the sun is blazing? Or unsure whether you should even head out at all?
Here’s all you need to know about competing in the heat.
If you’re travelling a long way to get to a competition, you’ll have to be extra vigilant. We’ve written a post all about travelling horses in the heat to help you keep them cool and comfortable in the lorry or trailer.
The most important things are to travel at the coolest time of the day where possible, keeping your horse as hydrated and relaxed as you can, and knowing exactly what to do if you get stuck in traffic.
One of the best ways to ensure your horse stays comfortable at competitions during a heatwave, is to acclimatise him in the weeks leading up to it. While this often isn’t possible (as unfortunately we still can’t control the weather) it’s worth keeping in mind that a horse who has been hacking and training in hot temperatures is likely to fare better than a horse who has been worked in an air conditioned indoor school for the last 5 months!
Despite us not being able to control or predict this, it’s worth keeping in mind when you are deciding to take your horse to the competition or not.
Cooling your Horse Down
Cool your horse down as quickly and as soon as you can during a heatwave. As soon as you come out the ring, untack your horse and wash him down while also offering him water. This is best done by two people, one on either side of the horse.
Pour cool water over the horse’s back and flanks. Continue to pour water over him until his skin starts to feel cooler, then walk him in hand to dry off and cool down properly.
Hydration – Whilst Competing in the heat
Keeping your horse hydrated is essential even while they’re out in the field. If you’re travelling to shows, warming up and competing, it becomes even more important. If dehydration isn’t acted on, your horse could get heatstroke, the impact of which can be catastrophic.
Remember to bring more water with you than you’ll need, and offer it to your horse regularly. While immediate drinking after exercise will help your horse recover, do not allow them to drink too much in one go straight after exercise. Once he has cooled off slightly and got his breath back, your horse can have as much water as he likes.
So, once your horse has worked, offer them water in moderation. The water is safest when it’s tepid as opposed to ice cold, and continue to offer water every couple of minutes as they begin to cool down.
Some horses don’t like to drink out and about. While this is not usually a worry on milder days, as they can be given a feed or soaked hay, during a heatwave you may want to consider not taking your horse out, as the risk of dehydration and heatstroke is far higher.
Electrolytes are lost daily through sweating the same way humans do, but if the temperature is excessively hot, replacing these is even more imperative. During two hours of exercise in normal conditions, horses can lose up to 10L of sweat – now imagine that but in 30 degrees!
Electrolytes should be added to your horse’s water after they have competed to replace fluids that they have lost. If the sweating has been prolonged (for example, riding a cross country course), then it might take a few days of electrolyte supplementation to get your horse 100% replenished. If your horse doesn’t like drinking at shows, electrolytes can be added to his food.
What about the Rider?
So you’ve kept your horse cool and comfortable, but it’s possible that with all the running around after your horse you’ve forgotten about yourself!
While riding can be hot work anyway, the stress of being at a horse show can often lead us to neglect our own bodies, not drinking enough water or giving ourselves regular breaks. This can lead to dehydration and sunstroke, which can be very dangerous on a hot day.
Drink plenty of water yourself, as well as isotonic drinks. Make sure you spend as much time in the shade as possible, and allow yourself to cool down after riding. After all, you may have had every success cooling your horse down, but if you yourself are dehydrated and exhausted, you’re very unlikely to perform at your best!