For the horse lover, long summer days and warm evenings spent riding are among the greatest pleasures in life- lazy days hacking in the countryside, the showing season and simply enjoying the scenery on horseback.
But when riding on hot days, there are a few things to bear in mind to ensure that the experience is safe, comfortable and enjoyable for both horse and rider.
Here are some tips on riding in hot weather, and how to get the best out of your horse or pony during the British summertime.
When the temperature rises and non- riders are stripping down to shorts and vest tops, it can be very tempting to sacrifice safety in order to maximise short term comfort.
Don't be tempted to do away with the correct clothing and equipment when riding in the heat- always wear your riding helmet, and keep it correctly fastened. There are some great lightweight and vented hats available on the market today, so consider investing in a summer riding hat to make your rides more comfortable and avoid the overheating and headaches that can really ruin a hack.
Nobody wants to wear long lined leather or rubber boots when it's hot, so a pair of Jodhpur boots or other short riding boots is a better choice for the warmer months.
However warm it gets, remember to cover your arms- a lightweight shirt with long sleeves offers more protection than a t shirt or vest top again scrapes and grazes, and is just as cool.
You probably already use a fly repellent on your horse if they are turned out over the summer, and it's just as important to protect them during your ride as well. Fly fringes which attach to the brow band can make a big difference in minimising fly irritation to your horse's eyes. You'll also probably want to consider using some form of bug repellent for yourself when the flies are out in force, to avoid being bitten to death by horseflies.
Also, remember your sunscreen! The peak of your riding hat will not prevent you from getting a sun burnt face, so use sun protection on your ride just the same as you would at any other time. Don't forget the exposed back of your neck if your hair doesn't cover it!
Horses can burn in the sun in the same way as people can, especially on pink and white areas- around the nose and muzzle particularly. There are lots of different types of sunscreens and sun blocks available specifically for horses and ponies, so choose the best one for your particular needs.
Try to avoid riding during the hottest hours of the day, particularly if you and your horse will be working hard. The lighter mornings and long summer evenings are the best times to plan your ride if possible. If you are going to be riding during the sunniest times of the day, think about your route before you set out and try to aim for shadier areas where both horse and rider can stay cool.
When preparing your horse or pony for summer riding, it can be worth considering getting him a summer clip, particularly if he has a heavy coat or you're going to be riding for long periods or working hard.
If you use a numnah or saddle cloth, try to steer clear of heavy and fur covered ones- consider lighter, moisture wicking equivalents instead. Remember that as your horse starts to work and sweat, the girth will loosen so check it regularly throughout your ride to make sure that the saddle is still secure.
On hot days, your horse or pony will warm up faster than during the colder months, but it's still important to go through the warm up process at the start of your ride in order for your horse's joints and muscles to prepare for exertion.
The ground will be harder after the sun has been out for a while, so take this into account when considering your pace and performance.
Hydration for both horse and rider are more important than ever when it's hot, so carry water with you, and stop to sip it regularly. Make sure that your horse has constant free access to water when stabled or turned out, and remember that they will drink more during the summer months. When riding, always be attuned to signs of dehydration, heat stroke and heat exhaustion in both yourself and your horse. Look for signs such as rapid breathing and pulse not related to recent exertion, dry skin and mouth, and stumbling, weakness and disorientation. A quick and easy way to check the hydration levels of both horse and rider is by lightly pinching an area of skin such as the back of the hand for the rider or the neck for horses. The skin should spring back quickly, and not take more than a second to return to normal. Any longer than that is a symptom of dehydration, and you should seek shade, cool down, and drink or offer water.
Mature or overweight horses and ponies are much more susceptible to the problems over heating can bring, so being in tune with the needs and issues of the horse you are riding is very important.
Remember as you come towards the end of your ride, to cool your horse down properly by relaxing the pace.
Once you return to the stables, remember the golden rule of equine care- always put your horse's comfort before your own.
Offer cool but not cold water once the horse has cooled down, and if he has exerted himself significantly, consider if you may need to add replacement electrolytes to his water.
If your horse has sweated a lot during the ride, consider rinsing him off with cool (again, never cold) water, and rub him down.
Getting the very best out of your horse or pony and enjoying your time with him is what equestrianism is all about- So get out there and enjoy it!
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