Long, hot sunny days are wonderful and nobody wants to complain about the recent weather particularly after last winter. But persistent temperatures in the high twenties can begin to cause problems for horses. So what steps should you take to manage your horse in this never-ending heat wave?
Initially, with very clear heat, the horse fly population was not too bad but as the cloud cover has increased, these insects have appeared with a vengeance. Most horses are well protected with fly rugs and a fly mask – don’t forget their eyes. But fly rugs are hot so if you turn out during the day, you could swap the routine and turn out at night when there are fewer flies anyway and then keep the horse in a cool stable during the day.
Check fields and buildings carefully for wasp, bee and hornet nests. There have been a record number this year due to the conditions and all can cause problems for horses if they find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nests should be removed by an expert. If you have bees, a local beekeeper may be able to collect these for you and take them to another location. First Aid treatment for stings is much as for people, topical relief with ice and antihistamine cream and oral antihistamine and bute if the reaction is more severe or the stings are numerous.
All horses need access to shade in hot weather and so will need a field shelter to retreat to or the cool or overhanging trees. Water must be checked very regularly. Horses in work should be exercised in the coolest part of the day so as early in the morning as possible or late into the evening. For those that are very troubled by flies, there is ride on fly rugs to help minimise this distraction.
A long period without rain means hard ground and exercise regime and competition must change to reflect this. Working horses continuously on hard ground will result in lameness and other conditions if not at the time then further down the line. Restrict hacking to walking and only trot if there is a very good covering of grass. Work on an all-weather surface or gallops and try to restrict competition choices to disciplines which use surfaces for both warm up and the actual event. Use supportive boots during work and cool legs afterwards with ice and use stable bandages to help support tired legs when the horse is in the stable. Be careful not to overheat the tendons and ligaments in these temperatures through overuse of leg protection, wraps or bandages. There are some very good air cooled boots available which are designed to protect the horse’s leg whilst allowing air to circulate.
British Eventing continues to run and most venue centres make huge efforts to prepare the ground using a mixture of spiking and agitating equipment and watering. Some venues are more successful at this than others and some have more natural advantages in terms of the soil they are on. Choose wisely if you do intend to the event in these conditions.
Any remaining grass after the spring is beginning to die away not due to lack of rainfall. Horses can still be turned out but will need hay to supplement inadequate grazing.
If possible, try and travel your horse in a trailer which is far cooler than a lorry due to the rear doors at the back remaining open. Whatever vehicle you use, bear in mind that they all rely on movement for air flow and so slow or stationary traffic will start to cause your horse problems. The maximum time a horse should remain in a vehicle with no airflow is 30 minutes at which point the horse will need to come off. Roadworks and traffic queues are a real problem in this regard but a call through to the police will usually give you clearance to leave a motorway via the hard shoulder. If there is no access out of the holdup, then you will need police assistance to remove the vehicle as quickly as possible to a safe point where you can take your horse off. Plan your route very carefully.
A seriously overheated horse will require immediate veterinary assistance but you will need to take steps before the vet arrives as time is of the essence.
The immediate recourse must be to cold water, saturate the horse with the hose, throw buckets of water over him if that is all you have, scrape away the excess and repeat. Walk the horse in hand gently if he is capable of movement whilst continuing the cooling process.
Syringe electrolytes after any severe physical exertion to replace body salts and minerals lost through sweat.