Updated: Jul 19, 2021
Ah, the sun is shining and the days are longer! For many horse people, summer time means more time with their beloved equine! However, along with the longer days comes the summer heat. With warmer temperatures, the needs of our four legged friends change. Here are 5 common mistakes horse owners may make during the summer months.
1. Not tending to water troughs/providing water through a small automatic waterer.
In the summer, the water heats up and becomes a breeding ground for algae. In most cases small amounts of algae are usually harmless, there are certain types of blue-green algae that can cause digestive upset. Therefore, it is wise to keep algae blooms at a minimum and clean water troughs often. Also, if enough time has elapsed for algae to grow, there may be other critters growing in there such as mosquito larvae and while mosquito larvae aren’t harmful to ingest, they can cause problems and spread disease once hatched. Emptying and scrubbing your horse’s water trough frequently will ensure that it stays clean and fresh, encouraging your horse to drink more. Furthermore, only providing water through a small automatic waterer may actually discourage your horse from drinking as much as they need which could be anywhere from 5 to 30 (after hard work) gallons a day. It has been scientifically proven that horses prefer to drink out of water buckets rather than automatic waterers. If the automatic water trough is small, such as the small galvanized ones that hang from the walls, the refill mechanism often fills slower than the horse drinks, causing an interruption in the rehydrating process which may result in less water being taken in overall. In general, providing a larger water trough or bucket might prove to be beneficial during the summer months when water consumption is critical.
2. Not feeding enough salt/electrolytes (and what’s the difference?).
Sodium chloride (NaCI), more commonly known as salt, is an essential electrolyte and nutrient needed no matter what the season. Even horses who are not being worked require a daily amount of sodium and horses who are working will require more. Other essential electrolytes such as magnesium, potassium and calcium can be found naturally in forage, whereas forage is normally low in sodium. Considering the fact that forage is commonly low in sodium, it is important that horses have access to a salt source or that it is supplemented within their diet. Additional electrolyte supplementation can be considered for a horse who is in heavy work or sweats frequently. The process of perspiration depletes the horse of electrolytes as sweat is predominantly made of chloride, sodium, potassium and smaller amounts of calcium and magnesium. A sweating horse can perspire up to 4 gallons of sweat in hot and humid environments. In this situation, a horse may loose more electrolytes than it is consuming from it’s forage and thus an electrolyte supplement may prove to be beneficial. It is important to think of sodium as a daily addition to the feeding regime and electrolytes as a supplement to use only when needed in addition to salt. Read more about salt & electrolytes here.
3. No reprieve from the sun.
A wild horse has the option to travel away to find better weather conditions or simply to find shade from the sun. Domesticated horses only have what we have provided for them. Shelter should absolutely be provided for horses who are contained in small spaces/paddocks/pastures. In the summer, access to a shaded and well-ventilated area helps keep your horse relaxed and as cool as possible. Just like humans, horses can suffer from overheating and can also develop sunburn, a shaded area can help prevent both. There are also parasites and biting insects which are most active in still air and direct sunlight. Providing open air shelters such as run-in sheds or corral shelters (which can attach easily to existing panels), is a great way to allow your horse free access to shade without confining them to a stall.
4. Not feeding healthy fats.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty (such as those found in chia seeds) acids are nutrients that horses are unable to create on their own and thus they must be supplemented. These nutrients can prove to be especially beneficial in the warmer months in both humid and dry environments. Why you may ask? Omegas have a multitude of health benefits such as reducing immune system response to allergies which tend to peak during warmer months, fortifying the digestive tract, aiding in healthy joints and muscles, creating a shiny coat and aiding in moisture retention which can help hooves prone to cracking stay strong and healthy. Pro tip: It is important to know that when supplementing omegas, it is important to supplement correctly. Omega-3’s have been proven to be anti-inflammatory whereas omega-6’s are inflammatory. Be sure you are selecting a source that has an ideal omega ratio such as chia seeds or a product such as Twenty Four Carrots Inner Glow Booster.
5. Using polo wraps/neoprene during vigorous workouts.
Oftentimes we wrap our horse’s legs in an attempt to protect them from damage but what we may not realize is the harm the wraps could be causing, especially during warm and hot months. Using polo wraps or neoprene boots exercising your horse can cause the legs to heat up significantly. When the anatomy of the lower limbs of horses is taken into consideration, you can see that there are no muscles below the hock or knee and the tendons are close to the skin, allowing them to cool themselves. When wraps or boots are applied they insulate the lower leg and too much heat may damage the underlying tendons, especially the superficial digital flexor tendons which rely on being exposed to open air to cool more than they rely on the bloodstream to cool. Even if the wraps are removed after exercise, it’s been proven that they cool slower than a leg that was not wrapped at all. If your horse is prone to brushing or connecting, it’s best to consult with your veterinarian to be sure there aren't any underlying issues which may cause this and if your horse must wear boots, opt for the more breathable mesh style boots, remove them immediately after exercise and then cold hose the limbs.
There’s always something to think about when it comes to owning and caring for horses. Even with the best intentions, we still may make mistakes. On the bright side, no one is perfect and mistakes are inevitable. Education is key and we hope this article provided some new thinking points and tips to help your horse feel their best when the weather is the hottest!
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