It has been unbearably hot here in southern California over the past week. Temperatures have been over 100 degrees everyday this week, and it appears they will remain that high through the beginning of next week.
When the temperatures spike like this, horses are at a higher risk of colic and other heat-related issues. It is more dangerous when the temperatures have been cool, then go up dramatically again, as the horses’ bodies are not acclimated to the heat; it’s actually easier for them if the weather is warm everyday as opposed to when it is cool one week, then outrageously hot the next.
The fall is also dangerous to horses, as it is often warm during the day, but cool at night (although this week it’s been warm even at night). The horses do not drink as much because of the cool air, and as a result can get dehydrated more easily. It is imperative that when the weather changes or when it is very hot as it is now, that we help the horses as much as possible.
A few ways we help to keep the horses cool and healthy in such hot weather:
#1- Rinsing the horses
One way to easily bring the horse’s body temperature down is to rinse them with water. Just like when giving a horse a bath, we let the horse feel the water on his legs first, before we rinse the rest of the body, so it is not so much of a shock. Rinse the horse from the neck area down, paying attention to whether there is a lot of foam, as that may be indicative of excessive sweating.
After rinsing the horse, it is very important to let the horse dry in the shade when it is very hot. Leaving the horse to dry in the sun can lead to scalding! It’s OK if the horse rolls in the stall or arena after being rinsed- the dirt will help to keep the horse cool and can also provide a barrier to pests.
Quick Tip #1: Make sure the water is cool before you rinse the horse! If the hose is in the sun, the water may be very hot! You can fill up a bucket with the hot water while you’re waiting for it to cool down. Put the bucket in the shade, then, after is cool, you can use it to water plants or to wash fly wraps.
Quick Tip #2: We put fan attachments or other gardening attachments on the hoses. This way we can easily switch the water on and off, reducing waste. The horses like the feeling of the spray, and it’s easier to direct the water.
We feed the horses electrolytes year-round, no matter what the weather. We increase the amount, however, when the weather changes dramatically or when the temperatures are consistently high as they are now. Electrolytes are different from salt, although they will encourage the horse to drink more. Electrolytes provide five different minerals to the horses: Sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium and magnesium. Although salt provides sodium and chloride (table salt is sodium chloride- NaCl), it does not supplement magnesium, potassium and calcium.
Horses who workout lightly, like our horses, often don’t need electrolytes as long as they are eating salt, as they can get much of their magnesium, potassium and calcium in the feed. When horses get older, however, they sometimes can lose some of these minerals more readily, and some horses will sweat more than others, no matter what their age. There is also no guarantee that the horses will eat their salt licks, either. Because of this reason, we do add a small amount of electrolytes to all of the horses’ grain on a daily basis, just in case. In weeks like this one, in which the horses are definitely losing electrolytes at a higher rate, we increase the amount to compensate for what they are losing through sweat.
Quick Tip #1: Not all elecrolytes are the same! Look at the ingredients to see what minerals your electrolytes are supplementing. Also note that there are different doses, depending upon your horse’s needs.
Quick Tip #2: Horses may not want to eat electrolytes in their feed, especially if you put in a ton! Adding a small amount to the feed on a regular basis will acclimate the horse to the taste.
Quick Tip #3: Some people will put electrolytes into their horse’s water. This is fine, but be sure to give the horse an additional bucket of water without electrolytes if the horse refuses to drink the water (some horses don’t like water that tastes differently). Otherwise, you’ll run into bigger problems!
In addition to electrolytes, all horses should have a large salt lick in their stall all of the time. The horse should be able to lick or eat the salt whenever he may need the minerals. Horses need approximately 1 ounce of salt per day. Horses who are worked more, or who may lose sweat more because of heat, may need two or even three times that amount.
Because we feed other supplements, we do not offer the mineral block, but instead we give the horses the plain white salt block. You should ask your vet what s/he recommends.
Besides the large 50 pound salt licks, we also have smaller Himalayan salt licks in the horses’ feeders. The Himalayan salt licks have trace minerals in them, so we do not offer large blocks in case of overconsumption, although this is more of a precaution we have not had an issue with them at all.
Quick Tip #1: Be sure to clean your salt licks regularly. Horses may not want to lick salt blocks that are dirty! We scrub our horses’ salt licks once a week.
Quick Tip #2: Most Himalayan salt licks come with a rope to tie to the side of the stall. We take the rope off and just put the block into the feeder- the horse has easier access to the salt lick, and we do not have to mess with salt licks that keep falling to the ground.
#4: Extra Salt
In addition to electrolytes, for those horses we are especially concerned about, we will put an ounce of sea salt into the horse’s feeder. When the horse eats, the salt is mixed up into the feed, and the horse will get his minimum amount of salt necessary. For some reason, some horses do not care for their salt licks, so this will help to ensure that the horse replaces the two most important minerals he needs to be healthy. It will also ensure that the horse will drink and stay hydrated, which can help prevent colic.
#5: An Additional Bucket of Water
Some horses may not drink as much because his waterer is in the sun. Some automatic waterers are made of metal, and if they are in the sun, the horse will refuse to drink because he gets burned every time he tries to take a sip of water! We have five-gallon plastic waterers for the horses, which help to keep the water a little cooler, and will not burn the horse when he goes to take a drink.
Even the plastic waterers, however, can get hot. If your horse isn’t drinking out of his waterer like he should, you can offer him a large 20-gallon bucket of water to see if he will drink- sometimes horses who refuse to drink out of the automatic waterer will play and splash in the bucket, and enjoy drinking the cooler water. We give a bucket of water in addition to (not instead of) the automatic waterer- if you are monitoring your horse’s drinking habits and only want to offer the bucket, be sure that there is someone who is checking on your horse several times during the day to ensure that he does not tip the bucket over.
Quick Tip #1: If your horse is having issues with drinking, you can add molasses into the water to encourage him to drink.
Quick Tip #2: Use a stud chain or bailing twine to tie the handle of the bucket to the stall so the bucket is less likely to tip over.
#6- Adding Oil
We don’t feed corn oil to the horses, but adding safflower or linseed oil can help to decrease a horse’s body heat while still preventing the burning of glycogen. Because the horse is not spending so much energy keeping himself cool, the body is not as stressed. The horse also has more energy because his storage of glycose has not been tapped, and will be less lethargic. For the most part, oils are safe for horses who have laminitis or cushings, but you should always check with your vet before feeding.
Quick Tip #1: Once you know what type of oil to feed your horse, keep an eye out for sales at your local supermarkets or feed stores! Most oils can keep for several months- if necessary, you can keep extra oil at your house and bring it down to the stables when needed.