Summer has hit us like a freight train, with heat indexes over 100* and high humidity here in Virginia. Summer is long and unrelenting here in the South, so it’s acclimate or don’t ride. Of course on the really hot days we use good sense and will adjust our riding plan accordingly, but my team and I have a few tricks up our sleeves to keep our horses—and ourselves!—happy and healthy when the weather gets hot.
1. Spray and scrape. When a horse gets hot, just hosing it with cold water isn’t the most efficient way of cooling it off in a hurry. The fastest way to get a horse’s core temp down is to hose, then scrape the water off immediately. Letting the water sit on the skin, even just to go from hosing one side of the horse to the other, makes the water heat up, and that layer of water acts like an insulator. Not good.
The best places to cool a horse are places where big blood vessels are close to the skin, like the jugular groove and between the hind legs. If I have to ride or travel on a really hot day, I’ll hose the horse off before I throw tack on or put them in the trailer. The light wetness will evaporate just like sweat. And if it’s really rough out and I absolutely must ride, like at an important show, I’ll have one of my staff bring a bucket with ice, water and rubbing alcohol to the ring with a sponge and a scraper. The alcohol evaporates faster than water, cooling the horse more quickly.
2. “Treat water.” Hydration is so crucial with horses year-round, but when it’s hot out, you just can’t get too much water in them. Sometimes my horses are finicky drinkers, particularly away from home or on the road. There are products out there to add to water to encourage horses to drink, but they’re quite expensive. I make my own, which we call “treat water,” by adding a handful or two of Tribute Equine Nutrition’s Performance Advantage and a scoop of Uckele Equine’s Pro-Lyte electrolyte, to a bucket of water. My horses LOVE it! And it’s great when we travel to a show or a new place where the water might taste different than it does at home.
3. A second set of helmet liners and gloves. Several of my Charles Owen helmets have a removable liner. When it’s really grim outside, I’ll keep a second liner to swap out halfway through the day. And ditto my gloves. I love my Madrids from Roeckl in the summertime, because they’re lighter, but I always have a second set to change into, because there’s just nothing more gross than putting on a clammy helmet and gloves!
4. Baby powder and Surf Butta. You’re welcome.
We’ll also use baby powder inside of the wraps of horses who need their legs wrapped in their stalls. It DRAMATICALLY cuts down on leg funk.
5. Speaking of skin funk, Zephyr’s Garden Summer Spray. It’s a mixture of some skin-happy herbs and apple cider vinegar, and we spray all our horses down with it after their post-ride showers to help make their coats stay healthy and soft through the worst of the summer weather.
6. Ice in the trailer. I’ve stolen this from my friend Jodie Kelly, who is in Florida year round and knows a thing or two about the heat! If I have to put a horse in the trailer in really hot weather, I’ll scatter a bag of ice in the trailer first. As it evaporates, it cools the air inside the trailer just a bit. And I’ve got fans inside my fabulous Jamco trailer, which were worth every penny! The combo of the ice and the fans makes it marginally tolerable inside my trailer, even on the worst days.
7. Night turnout. All of our horses go out overnight. All of them. Even my top FEI horses go out all night, and they all are so grateful for it. They evolved to graze 24-7! Plus, as Ann Glavan can attest, it has rideability benefits as well.
8. Ecovet. I used to believe that fly sprays were all bunk. Then I got turned onto Ecovet, which worked amazingly, though it had a bit of a weird smell that made all the horses and humans sneeze. This year they have a new scent, and it is SO MUCH BETTER, but just as effective.
And it should go without saying to use common sense, and to know your horse’s vital signs, to stay ahead of problems. If you’re struggling, your horse is probably struggling too. Stay safe out there! It’s going to be a hot one!