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Walking to cool out in hot weather

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  • Walking to cool out in hot weather

    I'm wondering about walking horses to cool them down in the heat. I know there are a lot of myths busted about horse care and esp cooling a horse in hot weather. I wonder if walking a hot horse has been found to not be as beneficial. Much like back in the day when we were all told that cold water would make a hot horse cramp.
    I understand that walking a hot horse can help a horse that is prone to tieing up keep from tieing up, or at least that was the idea when I worked at the track years ago. Or walking a horse some to keep them limber before another phase or leg of the ride.
    So the reason I ask is that I play polocrosse. Lower level polox. The format for our games is either 2 8 minute chukkas, or 3 6 minute chukkas. So on for 6 minutes, off for 6 minutes, on for 6 minutes, off for 6 and on for 6 again. In our time off the field we dismount, most loosen their girths and since it is usually hot w(and often humid) use cool/cold water to sponge then scrape. If someone has a particularly hot horse they will pull tack to sponge and tack back up. Many of the upper level players will walk their horses between sponging. My sister is an upper level player and has found that walking her excitable mare only keeps her hyped and she does not settle or cool any when walking so she stands and is repeatedly sponged and scraped. She often gets a fan too. This is what works for her.
    But it got me wondering, besides the possibility of a horse tieing up, with that short of a break, how beneficial is walking? It's not like their muscles are going to get that cold and in limber in the 5 minutes we are off their backs, right? Or am I wrong?
    Being a lower level player it is easier to keep our horses fit to the level we play at. So when I come off the field I dismount, loosen my girth, offer a drink and sponge if my girl seems particularly hot. Because she is more fit for her level she is only a bit sweaty by the end of the game. I tend to not walk her because her respiration returns to normal after a minute or so off of the field. And she is a lazy beast so why not conserve what energy she does have? I usually tighten my girth and walk a couple circles around the mounting block and check my girth again and walk back onto the field where I will usually trot or canter about a 20 meter circle or so just to get moving again before play starts.
    So, should we all be walking our horses? I've played mostly horses that we're very calm off the field. When not playing they want to be cooled and rested. I've helped other players with horses who seem to want to walk it out, so that's what I do if the rider wants. But what is best?

  • #2
    If the horse is breathing hard, you should keep walking it rather than let it stand still.

    If you want the horse to go back into the game, you should keep it walking so it doesn't stiffen up, I think.

    Tying up is a whole other thing, and is now known to be a genetic disorder.


    • #3
      Here in hot Florida, walking is exercise and adds to the heat stress your horse is experiencing. If I'm out of breathe and overheated am i going to want to walk or hose myself off? In excessive temperature, walking does add to heat stress. My horses will commonly be drenched head to toe from a walking trail ride. Today's ride was 90 percent walking. My horse was soaked, huffing, with veins visible by end of ride. Today was even relatively pleasant for Florida.

      I'm in the cold hose, scrape, stand in front of fans. Perhaps walk a small circle, repeat hosing, scrape etc. You want to remove as much heat as possible. Walking may prevent cramps, but not sure how beneficial it is in a healthy animal. For a really hot hose, just keep hosing non stop. I don't think scraping is as effective at removing heat as the action of flowing water.


      • #4
        Its been a while, but I recall it has something to do with the dilation of blood vessels when they exert themselves, as polo ponies do - that until the horse is cooled down, they need to be kept moving or things can go sideways. I don't recall what would happen if you didn't properly cool them out, but I do remember that it was bad. It was a long time ago.

        However, I am not familiar with PoloCrosse, so don't know how different that is from standard Polo and if the horses come off the field really hot, sweaty everywhere and breathing so hard that their nostrils stayed flared.

        I was a hot walker for a few years for a local polo team. When a horse came off the field, it needed to be kept moving, until their breathing had returned to normal, their body heat had dropped and their heart rate has returned to near normal. Walking in shade was preferable, if available and in-hand, not in the saddle. Girth was loosened. We used a damp sponge to get off the globs of sweat (usually around the breastplate, mouth and front legs). Then one full sponge wringed out over the top of the head. Then off to walk we'd go. Once breathing was normal, a small amount of water was offered to drink. Then they'd be haltered at the trailer, waiting for the next chukka or game.

        So yes, I would recommend dismounting, loosen girth, sponge and scrape if really sweaty, walk in shade. Even if the break is just 5 or 6 min.
        ~~ How do you catch a loose horse? Make a noise like a carrot! - British Cavalry joke ~~


        • #5
          You would keep a horse (or person) moving to help remove lactic acid from the muscles. That is dependent on how hard the horse exercised. Heart rate and respiration rate come down faster with rest, so you need to find a happy medium. I rarely walk horses after riding; I hose them off if they got sweaty, and they get turned out immediately after that. The last part of all my rides is usually suppleness and relaxation work, so they are already mostly recovered by the time I get off. I don't have to deal with much excessive heat like those who live in FL.


          • Original Poster

            I am wondering if anyone has any links to any current research on the benefits to walking a hot horse. I can't seem to find much on it online besides to cool down during the end of your ride. Can't really do that when playing polocrosse, which is like polo. You are either playing or you are not! I'd love to see if walking is recommended in hot vs cold weather. Cold weather I can see as it is a little different. You don't want your sweaty horse to catch a chill. But I feel like there should be some current info on whether walking a hot horse in the heat is still beneficial. I want to know more!


            • #7
              A quick Google search did not turn up any university level studies on this issue.

              I did find this which is illustrative of how most probably see the issue.


              Maybe we really don't need a bunch of DVMs to tell us what we already know! The Army practice was to walk horses after strenuous exercise for 30 min. as part of a "cool down." Coming in off of a patrol the last couple of miles were done at walk and sometimes the troopers dismounted and walked in with loose girths (this would depend on where they were and the tactical situation). This practice was part of the "30 minute" cool down time.

              There was quite a bit of research on keeping horses cool as part of the buildup to the '96 Olympics in Atlanta. That might be a good place to look for research on the issue.

              Good luck in your quest!

              Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raa, Uma Paixo


              • #8
                As a human runner, I walk after running until I catch my breath. When it's hot, standing in the shade works okay for me. The biggest thing I think is to not go and sit down immediately. Aka throwing a horse back in the stall for the rest of the day.

                As a horse-mom with a horse that is rehabbing from a soft tissue injury, we have strict orders to do a long warm up and cool out. So we walk 15 minutes, we work a little bit, and then we have to walk at least 10 minutes. That isn't quite related to your walking a hot horse comment, but walking post exercise does have importance for cooling down muscles. After your polocrosse match, I would say it is important to walk a little bit.

                I did find this slightly related article, "If you think your horse is overheating, stop work immediately, remove all tack, get him out of the sun, offer water (about a gallon at a time, at five-minute intervals) and run water over the horse constantly." -- it says nothing about walking


                • #9
                  As with human athletes there are a couple of parts. One is needing to cool the body literally to reduce heat stress. The other is more of a “warm down” for muscles and other soft tissue after hard efforts. It really is as important as the warmup but often overlooked.