Contributed by: Valerie Mellema, Gray Horse Publishing
This summer is shaping up to be super hot, really fast. While most horse owners are already riding in the early mornings, late evenings or just decided to give their horses some time off, there is still the factor of feeding them when the heat is too unbearable to do anything else.
Horses cool themselves in the summer by sweating. Some horses get to a point to where they stop sweating all together and this condition, known as anhidrosis, has its own set of unique challenges to manage.
For those horses that are still working and showing in the heat, it is important that you supplement them with electrolytes.
As a horse sweats, it loses minerals, and the excessive loss of minerals can cause muscle issues and fatigue. Electrolytes can be fed to horses through their feed and are designed to replace minerals and increase water consumption. Active horses that receive 5 to 10 pounds of grain and 15-20 pounds of hay per day, will need to have two additional ounces of electrolytes added to their feed.
Another important feeding point is to not feed too much protein.
When protein is fed in excess, the body has to break it down for energy production. However, this causes the body to produce excess metabolic heat, which increases the horse’s total heat load, causing it to burn more calories to increase its sweating and breathing. A horse in intense work only needs 10% protein, so look closely at your feeding plan and consider all sources of protein, including your hay.
Fresh water is a must during these hot temperatures.
Horses drink more water when it is between 45 and 65 degrees. This means you may need to refresh water midday and use tanks and buckets with good insulation. Hot horses will drink 20 or more gallons of water per day. Don’t depend on ponds and creeks alone. In 2002, the University of Montana had nine horses die from dehydration after a creek in their summer pasture dried up. The river feeding the creek hadn’t dried up in over 50 years, so they hadn’t considered that this could happen.
Keep an eye on your horse’s overall body condition throughout the summer.
Get familiar with the body condition score system and monitor your horses based on the type of work that they do. An endurance, eventer or jumper will have a typical body condition score of 5, while a racehorse will be at 4.5-5. Most show horses are 5 to 5.5.
If you do have a horse that suffers from anhidrosis, keeping them indoors under fans and misters helps them immensely.
You can also feed them beer and used coffee grinds. Work with your vet on this condition. Some horses are seasonal anhidrosis sufferers due to humidity levels while others simply can’t live in hot and humid climates and are better suited for homes in the north.
Most importantly, make any changes gradually.
You don’t want to make drastic feed changes in the summer, as this can cause just as many issues as the heat itself.
Valerie Mellema is the owner of Gray Horse Publishing & Marketing.
She has been in the equine industry for over 25 years and is a published author of multiple horse care books. She is also the owner of Mellema Thoroughbreds, a thoroughbred breeding farm. She shows her OTTB, Mistic Gray, in hunter/jumpers.
Visit her website at www.grayhorsepublishing.com.