Helping horses cope when its hot

by Lucy Johnson - 28/07/2019 - Comments ( 0 )

Helping horses cope when its hot


Very hot weather is great if you love the heat, but for animals, high temperatures can present a challenge to horses, especially if they are competing, are old or overweight or have existing health problems. 


Sensible management in hot weather can help reduce the risk of heat related problems. Horses can acclimatise to heat but only if they are exercised in the heat and learning to identify the signs of heat related illness and knowing when to call for veterinary help can save lives.


The horse is able to sweat faster than any other animal. Sweat cools the skin down, and the blood flowing through it, by evaporation. However, being able to sweat so much means horses are at risk of dehydration. This increases the risk of some health problems including colic and respiratory disease. 


Less water in the body means food material in the GI tract becomes firmer and moves more slowly through the intestines. With dehydration the mucus in the airways of the lungs become thicker and moves more slowly leading to greater accumulation of allergens and even bacteria or viruses. This may lead to inflammation or infection. 


Increased sweating also means an increased loss of electrolytes. 

Horse sweat contains 11g of electrolytes per litre and is much more concentrated than human sweat. 


According to Dr David Marlin over a period of weeks and months this can lead to electrolyte depletion or imbalance (depending on what is being provided by the diet as horses cannot make electrolytes but must get them from food) and an increased risk of problems such as reduced performance, tying-up (exertional rhabdomyolysis) and “thumps” (synchronous diaphragmatic flutter); the latter is most common in endurance horses but does occur in racehorses and eventers.

Adding table salt (sodium) to the feed will help replace this electrolytes lost in sweat / ½ to 1 25ml scoop per day for horses not in work, 1-2 scoops per day for horses in medium work and 2-3 scoops per day for horses in hard work.


However, the horse is likely to be deficient in other electrolytes. Adding electrolytes, like Animalife’s Vetrolytes PLUS to feed or water will help alleviate this. 


  • Vetrolytes PLUS is a liquid electrolyte formula providing fast absorption to rapidly replace vital salts sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, and Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) that are lost through sweat and which are needed to improve stamina and recovery whilst encouraging water consumption.


  • This unique formula contains a range of important naturally occurring bio-available Amino Acids, including the BCAA - Isoleucine, Leucine, and Valine - to help reduce muscle fatigue and assist muscle recovery. BCAA are the building blocks for protein and important for muscle health, recovery and growth.


  • Naturally flavoured for palatability, Vetrolytes PLUS is ideal for fussy eaters and can be mixed with feed, added to water, or syringed orally into the mouth.


  • Vetrolytes PLUS can be used daily or for competitions and travelling. It can administered to horses after general sweating, during hot weather or when they are stressed to help improve their recovery.


The amount your horse drinks will increase in hot weather and it is important to supply at least two 15 litre buckets and check them at least twice a day.

Depending on the type of stabling, keeping your horse in is an option too. This can also help reduce the irritation from flies. 


Some horses lose weight in hot weather as energy is required to regulate its temperature and keep the body cool.


Capacity for exercise can also be reduced with the horse tiring earlier. 


Horses can also be susceptible to sunburn, especially on pink areas of skin. A factor 50 suncream snd fly mask will help.


Your horse may be suffering in the heat if he shows any of the following signs:


An elevated heart rate that does not return to normal in a reasonable period of time

Excessive sweating or lack of sweating

Temperature that persists above 39.4C

Depression and/or lethargy

Signs of dehydration: dry mucous membranes, poor capillary refill, and poor skin turgor

Panting (faster shallow breathing)

Nostril flaring

Increased rectal temperature

Decreased appetite and thirst

Dark urine

Reduced urination

Reduced performance

Muscle spasms

“Thumps” (synchronous diaphragmatic flutter)

Abnormal (irregular) heart rhythm

Slow recovery after exercise




How to Help Your Horse in Hot Weather


  • Clipping you horse is an option
  • Keep your horse stabled in the hottest part of the day and turn out overnight if your stables are brick and well ventilated.
  • Ride early morning or late evening.
  • If traveling horses then leaving very early or very late to avoid the heat of the day and traffic.
  • If you have to work your horse in the heat, lighten the work load. When training or competing offer water immediately after exercising as this is the time when a horses thirst is strongest. Do not restrict intake as it does not cause colic in healthy horses. This is especially important when the humidity is high, contributing to the poor quality of the air your horse is breathing. Cool your horse down slowly, and offer frequent sips of cool water. Take the tack off as soon as you’re done and sponge the horse off again with cool water
  • If you are competing, then leave water in the stable right up until the time you are going to tack-up. If you have warmed-up, then there is no harm in washing your horse down and allowing him a drink before you compete. Feeding electrolytes like Vetrolytes PLUS daily will help keep your horse hydrated and reduce the risk of tying-up, colic and respiratory disease. 
  • If you have to compete in the heat of the day then train at least 3-4 days a week in the heat. Remember that even if your horse is “acclimatised” to the heat then he will not be able to perform at the same level as in cooler weather. Horses with exposed pink areas, especially on the face can easily get sunburnt so use a UV mask and or sun-block.
  • Know your horse and signs of heat stroke. Heat stroke can happen anytime your horse is exposed to excessive heat that his body cannot handle. You should know your horse’s normal temperature, heart, and respiratory rates.


If you are concerned that your horse is suffering from heat stroke, call your vet immediately and get your horse into a cooler environment.

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