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All issues concerning Small Farms, Agriculture, Local Food Systems, and the Natural Resources.

Hot Weather Risks for Horses

Posted by Myla Munro -

Heat and humidity are as hard on horses as on humans. Access to FRESH water is important. Water in pails and tanks spoils more rapidly with increased temperatures. Bacterial growth is rapid, and horses find such water unacceptable. The result is reduced water consumption with increased risk of dehydration. Dip your hand in the water and smell it. If you wouldn't drink it, don't expect your horse to.

Electrolytes are important but should be fed free choice as a loose salt mineral mix or top dressed in grain. If electrolytes are given in the water, horses may drink less. Anything that reduces water intake puts horses at risk.

Shade is helpful and air movement is especially useful. Fans, especially window box fans, are often hung on stall fronts to move air directly on horses. It also helps keep flies off. Aisle-way fans are less useful because it is difficult to get air movement in the stall where it is needed.

Be sure the horse cannot reach the fan or the electrical cords supplying the fans. Electrocution deaths as a result of a horse chewing on an electrical cord are fairly common. While there are usually breakers or fuses that will shut the power off, fires can result from malfunctioning fans in barns.

With stabled horses, keep stalls clean. Urine-soaked bedding and manure ferment more rapidly in hot humid weather. Fermentation produces both heat and ammonia, which increase the risk for lung disease. Picking stalls out once or even twice a day will reduce both problems.

Try to work horses early in the morning. This takes advantage of the cooler part of the day, plus gives the horse time to normalize its body temperature. Watch for signs of a medical emergency: weakness, labored breathing, cessation of sweating, or other signs of distress. Call a veterinarian, get the horse in shade, use fans and bathe with cold water. Bathe the head, underside of neck, inside of legs, and the entire body. Research at the Georgia Olympics in 1996 proved that ice water in large volumes could reduce temperatures safely without risk.

Be careful out there!

Written by: Dr. Dean Scoggins, Equine Extension Veterinarian, Veterinary Continuing Education/Public Service-Extension, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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