Here in Ohio, we’ve experienced some interesting weather patterns in the last year or so. Winter was notably more painful than it had been in years (face it folks, we were due), spring took forever to get here, and seemed to pass just as quickly, and summer apparently suffers from some kind of multiple personality disorder. Watching fireworks to celebrate Independence Day on the lake with our family, was done with sweatshirts and blankets wrapped around us. Now, we’re all acting surprised at the very August-like weather we’re having… yeah, it’s still August, I know.
These “dog days” of summer, always remind me of the lengths we went to, in order to keep hydrated and happy horses. I liked the link provided from Horse.com, I’m always a fan of simple lists. Mostly, I think it’s common sense, make sure your horse(s) has plenty of clean water available to them at all times, try to not turn them out during the heat of the day, leave doors and windows open, and use fans whenever you can, because even moving hot air is better than nothing. I did want to share though, some of the tips we developed over the years, which seemed to help. I actually still use some of them now at my boyfriend’s son’s baseball games. Teenage boys are a lot like horses!
If you’re a fan of my blog, you’ve learned by now, that Buddy was just a bit spoiled. My boy only liked the water he knew from home, and often would curl his nose at “funny smelling” water from other sources. One solution was sports drinks. I don’t want to get in the business of endorsing any one in particular, they’re all the same to me anyhow, but I learned to keep a few packets of the dry mix in the trailer, so when we encountered any water that wasn’t up to Buddy’s high standards, a little flavored drink mix was enough to disguise the yucky taste, and get him at least sipping from his bucket, rather than just snorkeling in it. Another quick fix, was the purchase of a 5 gallon tank, like the ones you put on water coolers. That way, we always had water from home, and it really came in handy when you weren’t parked near a water source at shows. I think I found it at Wal-Mart, and it had a screw on cap, so it could be used over and over.
Another issue that seems to go hand in hand with the heat, is bugs. Fly coverings now are made of some light-weight materials, and several have some level of SPF, which is great. A high-neck sheet and mask do wonders for protecting them from annoying pests, and keeping any pink skin from significant sun damage. What do you do though, for the delicate pink noses? In our case, I kept a travel size tube of baby sunblock, for MY baby, in our brush caddy. After a couple times of him enduring uncomfortable peels on his nose from overexposure, I started putting on SPF 50 before any turn-outs or rides in the sun. There’s nothing sadder than a horse with a peeling nose, twitching it, rubbing it on anything that will hold still, then pulling back when it’s too tender. I’m still shaking my head now, poor poor, delicate flower Buddy. He wasn’t the biggest fan of having cold goo slathered on his nose either, but I’m reasonable sure, if he’d been asked, he would agree it was better than a sunburn.
When we showed, the easy-up canopy tents were just coming into the market, so the one we found, was a “not-so-easy-up,” but it did the trick. It was large enough for the family to sit under, and Buddy always found a way to sneak in too. We did our best to find shady places to park when we hauled out anywhere, but in the event it isn’t available, and stalls or other structures aren’t nearby, the portable canopy is a great investment. If finances allow, a canopy mounted on your trailer is even better. I think most larger trailers with living areas have them as a standard feature, but they’re easily installed after market as well. The obvious downside to the free-standing models however, are if you’ve got a horse that won’t stand quietly. A frightened horse, tangled up in tent stakes, or worse, running backwards with a canopy billowing in front of them like a dragster in reverse, does not end well.
Something else we can easily forget, is how quickly layers of fly spray and coat shining products can build up, clogging their pores, and making sweating difficult if not impossible. I suspect we’re not the only ones, who struggled year after year, trying different fly-repellant products, with limited results. When you did find something that seemed to work marginally better than the others, you used it in excess. So you’ve got a horse that isn’t being bothered to death by bugs now, but at the end of the day, you’ve also got a horse that cannot sweat all the toxins out of his body, because of the layers of chemicals on his coat. Think about it. When you’ve worked all day outside, you’re a sweaty, stinky mess. What’s the first thing you do? Hit the showers! Your horse is no exception, they need that time to relax and wash the day away too. You don’t want to get in the habit of full-on bathing them every day, too much soap will dry out their coat and leave you with a list of other problems, but there’s nothing wrong with a nice rinse-n-curry at the end of a ride. Using a soft rubber curry in circles while you’re rinsing their coat helps to break up all the gunk, so they’re left feeling refreshed. Sometimes I’d add a little Vetrolin to the water, on the tougher days, which he seemed to enjoy. If we were at the show location still, sometimes I’d turn the hose on myself after, and rinse out my own mane! It’s amazing what a little cool water can do to your attitude after a long, hot day. To make sure we could always grab a quickie bath when needed, I’d found a nice short length of hose that was the perfect travel-size, and kept it in the trailer.
One more tip we came up with, was cold towels. Something hand-towel size was perfect, soaked in water, and kept in the cooler. If you or your horse started to feel over-heated, wrapping that towel around your, or their neck was an easy way to bring your body temperature down. Cool air or water on any pulse points works in a pinch, but those towels felt amazing when you’re sweating through your show clothes, or your horse is looking a little dull. Holding an ice-cold towel with ice wrapped inside, around his throat always perked Buddy back up. This works for all manner of animals, including 13 year old baseball players!
A good rule of thumb, is your own personal reactions to climate. If it’s 90 degrees out, with 90% humidity, would you go out and run a 5K? If you’re acclimated to it, maybe you would, but I bet you’d plan for it with selecting a time when the sun isn’t at full blast, or taking packable water or those gel things. The same in winter, if it’s below freezing, your horse probably feels about the same way you do about it, so use some rationale when planning your barn time. The heat doesn’t have to put the kibosh on your riding time, you just have to plan accordingly, so you and your horse can both still enjoy your time together.