As Summer Heats Up, Keep Horses Cool

Keep your horse happy, healthy, and in the game with these health and management tips.
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Summer time is fun time, whether you’re headed to the nearest trailhead or across the country to a major show venue. But just as your equine activities go into high gear, so do the challenges that come with the season.

As the weather turns from warm to hot, keep in mind that stress from exercise, exposure to other horses, insect activity and parasites all reach their peak during this season. Robert Stenbom, DVM, senior equine professional services veterinarian at Boehringer Ingelheim, offers these tips to help you keep your horse healthy and comfortable as temperatures rise.

1. Keep Your Horse Hydrated and Cool

“Most horses drink between five and 15 gallons of water a day,” says Stenbom, depending on multiple factors.

Horses with underlying diseases, such as renal (kidney) disease, will increase their water consumption, and horses fed a diet of dry feedstuffs will consume more water than horses on pasture in the summertime. Have a cool, clean water source available for drinking.

It’s important in the heat of the summer to have a cool water source available to bathe horses post-exercise and use fans to keep air moving over them to help lose body heat. This is particularly important for horses who are nonsweaters (they have a condition called anhidrosis).

“Excessive work in extreme conditions, especially with horses that haven’t been worked into it gradually, may lead to problems or exacerbate conditions that are not usually a problem,” Stenbom notes. “Even a well-conditioned horse could get into trouble on a really hot day.”

2. Provide Shade and Ventilation

Whether they are at home in a barn, traveling, at a show, or lounging in a pasture, horses should have access to shade. Good ventilation in trailers will help keep horses comfortable in the event you are held up in traffic on a hot day. At the show grounds, check for good ventilation in stalls. Fans can be helpful where ventilation is lacking. Consider an awning to shade horses tied to trailers at one-day shows.

3. Protect Your Horse from Infectious Diseases

“When horses are traveling to shows or other events, they are interacting with other horses, and that’s when disease transmission from horse to horse, such as influenza and rhinopneumonitis, become important,” Stenbom says.

“Horses that are traveling and competing should have more intensive influenza and rhinopneumonitis vaccinations; if they had a vaccination early in the year, a booster may be considered during the show season due to increased potential exposure to infectious respiratory diseases, as well as the effect that stress may have on their immune system.”

Horses with inflammatory airway disease (a type of equine asthma) might be subclinical or marginally clinical most of the year, but the heat stress of summer could exacerbate those breathing conditions.

4. Keep Vaccinations Against Insect-Borne Diseases Up-To-Date

Mosquito-borne diseases, including Eastern equine encephalitis, Western equine encephalitis, and West Nile virus, tend to appear from mid-summer to late summer and into the early fall, so it’s very important that horses approach the summer with good immunization status for those diseases, Stenbom says.

“Vaccinating once a year would be a minimum, but in parts of the country where the insect season goes longer, horse owners may consider vaccinating twice a year,” he adds. “Horses traveling from the north, where they might only require once-a-year vaccination, to the south in the winter, may require a second vaccination.”

A second vaccination may also be advisable in areas that experienced milder than usual temperatures this past winter.

5. Boost Your Parasite Protection Program

Summertime can be a very active time for parasite transmission, particularly with horses out on pasture when parasites are proliferating in the warmer weather. Parasite control is very important all year round, but summertime is when the parasite-host interface is often at its greatest. Horses on drylot or in stalls are vulnerable to parasite infestation through exposure to manure and flies that vector parasites. Follow a parasite management program advised by your veterinarian that considers the risks in your area.

A preseason wellness exam with your veterinarian that includes vaccinating with updated, comprehensive vaccines should be part of your routine, but a midsummer check-in gives you an opportunity to review your horse’s needs in light of travel plans, potential exposure to other horses and degree of exercise stress. Maintaining your horse’s health and comfort during the heat of the summer also assures uninterrupted fun for you and your mount.

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