Horse Health: Beat the Heat

Learn how you can protect horse health during summer heat.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Summer heat requires extra precaution when caring for horses. Journal photo

In the summer, when temperatures soar, the hot sun glares and there’s nary a breeze to be found, most horse owners are comfortable in air-conditioned offices or houses. But what about our beloved horses?

Extreme heat can lead to dehydration, tying up, heat exhaustion, colic and even death. Dr. Justin Voge of Hartman Equine in Whitesboro, Texas and Dr. Elaine Carpenter of Cave Creek Equine in Phoenix, Arizona, strongly recommend using common sense when determining whether or not your horse is at risk for these conditions.


“We advise to not exercise your horse in the heat of the day,” Dr. Carpenter says. “Pick early morning or late evening when it’s cooler to ride or work your horse.”

That said, even in cooler parts of the day during the summer, take extra care to properly warm up and cool your horse down.

“Just be sensible. If it’s hot out and you’re hot, think about how hard you work your horse. A fit horse can handle it better than a horse that’s not fit,” Dr. Carpenter says.

The policy at Voge Quarter Horses is to always rinse the horse after exercise in the summer. It cools them down faster, gets the dirt and sweat off and, then when placed in a well-ventilated stall, keeps them cool longer.

Want to learn more about keeping your horse safe while riding this summer? AQHA’s FREE Trail Ride Safety Tips ebook has expert advice on how you can enjoy trail riding while keeping your horse’s health and the environment in mind.

It’s critical to always provide clean drinking water for horses, but in the summer, it can be a matter of life or death.

“In the summertime, we feed a little bit of Morton lite salt every day,” Dr. Voge says.

It’s a combination of salt and potassium chloride designed for human consumption. It can be found at most grocers and helps horses want to drink more.

Electrolytes can also help your horse stay healthy in the heat. Electrolytes can be administered in an oral paste, or mixed in feed or water.

Be careful when you put electrolytes in the water, though,” Dr. Carpenter warns. “Always offer water without electrolytes, as well. Some horses will stop drinking because they don’t like the taste. And you definitely don’t want them to stop drinking.”

Summertime provides many great trail-riding opportunities, but it’s important to be mindful of your equine partner’s health. Learn more about keeping your American Quarter Horse safe in AQHA’s FREE Trail Ride Safety Tips ebook.

Warning Signs

Here are signs that your horse might need serious medical attention because of the heat. Call the vet right away if your horse has any of these symptoms:

  1. The horse stops sweating. Some horses suffer from anhydrosis, which is the inability to sweat, and a condition that needs to be diagnosed by the veterinarian. In a normal horse, it is a sign of extreme heat stress. If it’s hot out and your horse stops sweating, call the vet right away.
  2. Increased respiratory rate. Anything above 50 breaths per minute warrants a vet call
  3. Increased rectal temperature. If the horse’s temperature rises above 102, call the vet. If the horse’s temperature shoots up right away after a few minutes of exercise, that is a sign that the horse is having trouble cooling itself.
  4. Muscle stiffness. A horse that seems stiff and/or is reluctant to move around may be starting to tie up. Call the vet.
  5. Lethargy. If the horse acts depressed, is disinterested in food or lacks coordination, call the vet.

While waiting for the vet to arrive, stop activity, offer the horse water, rinse the horse with cold water and keep him in the shade and in front of a fan.