It is HOT outside! I would love to tell you, “Hold on just a little longer, it’s only 49 days till fall”, but we live in Florida so we know all that means is pumpkins and sunshine.
Dealing with heat and hydration in your horse
Hydration for you and your horse is important this time of year. In high temperatures we lose much more water than we realize. Even when it’s raining, you can be sweating and losing valuable minerals and water. Your horse is the same way. There are lots of things you can do to help your horse make it through these hot summer days especially if you two are working regularly for upcoming shows. Here are a few I feel are important chart toppers.
The Horse Heat Index
Keep the horse heat index in mind. If you aren’t familiar with it, I’ve included it below. Stay in the shade when you are working, it won’t change the temperature but it will keep you from having the added heat of direct sunlight.
To use the index, all you need to do is add the current temperature (in Fahrenheit) and the relative humidity (in % RH) together. The total number determines the conditions. For example, if it is 77 degrees out and the relative humidity is 65 %, add them together for a total of 142. When you have your total, see the table below for recommendations.
Most forages and feeds are high in electrolytes already but if you have a horse that is being worked hard in the hotter months you may need to consider the addition of an electrolyte supplement. Here’s the thing you need to know about electrolytes, while they are just as important for your horse as they are for you, given in wrong dosages they can cause an imbalance. Again, just like you, your body usually gets electrolytes from balanced nutrition, but you may also have days when you really need more than you can consume in your daily meals. This is the same with your horse. Electrolytes can keep him from having muscle injuries or other conditions from dehydration. Most vets however, recommend offering your horse a free choice mineral and salt block instead of a daily ration in their feed. They can eat what they need, more on some days and less on others.
I saved this for last because honestly, I think everyone just knows your horse needs water. Quality and quantity do count here though which makes it well worth mentioning. Out of everything you could offer your horse during hot, muggy days, water would be the most important. Make sure they have plenty and won’t run out. Quality makes a difference too! Affecting how much and even if your horse will drink. Water troughs and automatic waterers should be cleaned and checked regularly.
Can I tell if my horse is dehydrated?
Yes. There is a test you can do that is helpful. The Pinch Test. It works on horses, dogs, most animals and people. Pinch the skin near the point of the shoulder. If the skin snaps back quickly your horse is sufficiently hydrated. If it takes the skin two to four seconds to snap back, your horse is moderately dehydrated.
Another option to test your horse’s dehydration is to check the capillary refill time. Press a finger or thumb to the upper gum for a second or two. When you remove your finger the pressure point will be a lighter color (usually they will be pink and moist, turning very light pink when pressed on). If color returns to the spot within one to two seconds, your horse is properly hydrated. If it takes longer than two seconds for the color to return, your horse is likely dehydrated.
Dehydration isn’t the only concern
Florida’s heat can be down right intolerable in July, August and September and these are just some of the measures you can take to make sure it doesn’t cause your horse damage or injury. The heat can cause other concerns as well. Don’t forget to watch for mildew in your food and hay. With the moisture in the air and all the rain combined with high temperatures it happens quicker than you might think. Check your feed and hay before serving it up. Try not to feed in the dark (because I know most of you have done this a time or two), and use your nose. You can smell mildew easily when you open a bag or a bale and it’s present.
Use good judgement. If it’s too hot, take the day off and if that’s not an option, play it smart! Today may just be a good day to work on desensitizing. I’m thinking water hoses, ice, kiddie pool. I’m sure you can use your imagination!