angle-left Haul Your Show Horse Safely

Haul Your Show Horse Safely

How to help your show horse adapt from hot to cold, or cold to hot, climates.

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One often-overlooked aspect of hauling a horse to shows or other events is adjustment to changes in climate and altitude. Some changes don’t affect a horse severely, but others can zap him physically, change him mentally and cause poor performance.

Christian Rammerstorfer of Oroville, California, is a reining trainer who has a Ph.D. in equine nutrition and exercise physiology. He has hauled horses to several states where temperatures, humidity and altitude were extremely different from what the horses were used to at home. Here are his tips for long-distance hauling.

Adjusting Your Horse From Hot to Cold Temperatures

Much of the adjustment a horse has to make in this type of change is mental. Christian offers these tips for trouble-free horse trailering to consider:

  • Leave time for a more thorough warm-up routine. Simply put, the change to a cold climate gives horses an extra energy boost that has to be managed. You need to think about working the excess energy out of your horse, but not to tire your horse too much to perform. Christian says, “He will be real frisky and might have a hump in his back, even after loping for 15 minutes or more. He’ll still feel like he wants to buck you off, because he feels so good.”
  • Don’t worry about your horse’s muscles tightening or getting sore from the cold. A 30-year-old Swedish study looked at horses that were used to warm environments and then were exercised in three different types of weather: warm, cool and sub-zero. “The horses at sub-zero had the least amount of stress during hard exercise,” Christian says. “They had energy available. They didn’t have to cool themselves, because the cold air took care of it for them.” The bottom line is that a horse transported from hot weather to cold doesn’t need an adjustment period before he can perform.
  • However, your horse may need special attention to his comfort zone in a stall. “You don’t want to see him stand in a cold stall and begin to shake,” says Christian, who recommends putting at least a sheet on the horse when the temperature drops below 50 F and a heavy blanket if the temperature falls below 35 or 40.

Adjusting Your Horse From Cold to Hot Temperatures

When figuring out how to trailer a horse, summer heat is a concern. The horse has many aspects to physically adapt and adjust to in order to deal with the heat in this situation. 

A horse’s system is extremely well designed to maintain body heat within acceptable limits, even during hard exercise and hot conditions. But these systems need to adjust, Christian says: “That includes heart rate, respiration and peripheral circulation.”
Heat is produced in the body core, meaning the muscles and insides of the horse. It needs to be diverted to the outside, away from the body, so the horse can cool down.

The following should be considered when hauling your horse from cold to hot temperatures:

  • Give your horse time to adjust to the hotter climate. When a horse is taken from moderate temperature, between 60 and 72 F, it takes a horse about seven days to adjust to a temperature that is 10 degrees hotter. It takes roughly another seven days for each additional 10-degree increase. If you’ve taken a horse from 65 to 95 F, you need to give it roughly three weeks to adjust. If a horse does not have adjustment time, they won’t perform as well. If temperatures are high, you risk your horse developing heat exhaustion, or even worse, heat stroke.
  • Your horse’s sweat can help you determine how he is adjusting to the hot weather. When a horse is in good shape and is adjusted to heat, sweat will be watery. But one that is not conditioned or has not acclimated will have foamy sweat, due to a higher saline and electrolyte content.
  • Don’t overuse electrolytes. When a horse sweats, horse owners want to start pouring packaged electrolytes into every bucket of water. Christian says that the use of electrolytes can be overdone – the horse might not want to drink his water because of the strong taste. A horse ridden once a day for a couple hours at an event where it’s hot and humid won’t need electrolytes after being hosed off and put in the stall with a fan to relax. “But if a horse is on a long-term endurance ride, or even a cross-country trail ride, and he sweats for hours on end, he might need some extra electrolytes,” Christian says.
  • Provide a salt block. Horses crave salt and seem to know how much they should lick from the block. If they are low on electrolytes, however, they won’t develop a craving for salt.
  • Adjust your horse’s feed. “The hotter it is, the more fat you want to add to the horse’s ration,” Christian says. You’ll also want to adjust your horse’s hay intake. “You should reduce a horse’s hay intake to about 1.2 percent of its body weight, because the hay fermentation produces a lot of heat,” Christian says.