Looking at me calendar, I realized that today, June 21st, is the official start of summer. You may be saying – “What’s the big deal?” – but as an old police horse, I can tell you that working in the summer heat can take a lot out of you. Many people spend their summers working with their horses in the show ring, at the racetrack, or riding the trails. Heat stress is a big concern to both equine athletes and their owners.
We have some natural ways of cooling off during exercise that you may be familiar with. First off, we sweat (a lot)! When sweat evaporates off horses’ skin, it releases energy and helps to lower surface temperature; it’s the same way you keep cool while playing on a warm, sunny day. During exercise, our hearts are also pumping a lot of blood. Much of that blood is redirected to the capillaries and blood vessels just under our skin. That’s why when you see a horse finishing up some hard work it looks like there is a spidery web of veins underneath the hair. Because the surface of a horse’s body is cooler than its body core, the blood flowing just under the skin cools off faster. Horses also will breathe faster because some heat can be dissipated when they exhale, and we inhale nice, cool air to keep our muscles working.
You may think that all this stuff I’m saying is just hot air because it sounds like how you keep cool during the summer, but it really has been scientifically proven! It’s another way that horses and humans are connected.
If you worry that your horse is overheating, the first thing you can do is move it out of the sun and into the shade. You can also hose off your horse’s legs and body with cold water. This will cool off the blood flowing just below the skin, which will then help cool off the body core. To prevent dehydration, allow your horse to have several small drinks of water, but be careful – too much cold water too fast can give us a belly ache! Electrolytes (elek-tro-lites) are also a good idea; you can find more information about those by visiting the Healthcare and Nutrition page on Equine Science 4 Kids!
All this typing has caused me to break out in a sweat! I think I’ll find a nice, shady spot to cool off!