The sun is out, it seems summer is finally here! For many, it comes after months of slogging away mucking out stables, getting up early to turn out horses and missing out on opportunities to ride because of dark mornings and nights. The sun is therefore very welcomed by anyone involved with horses and there are some great benefits to this time of year. Generally summer time means looking after horses becomes easier and a bit more enjoyable. There are more hours of daylight in the day to get everything done and many horses will get more turnout in the summer months, meaning less or virtually no stable chores. But summer brings with it some challenges when it comes to caring for our horses and there are some welfare considerations to keep in mind. I often think the weather in this country can be so unpredictable at times. Just within this last week I have gone from wearing shorts one day, to having a fleece and jeans on the next. Hot weather can be difficult for our horses, particularly if they have not had time to acclimatise and it’s jumped from cool weather to 20 + degrees within the space of a day. Here are some tips and things to bear in mind to help keep your horses healthy and happy in the warmer summer months:
- Ensure they have plenty of clean, fresh water. Just like us, horses sweat to help cool themselves down and they need to replace this water loss to ensure they do not become dehydrated. Horses drink up to 30 litres of water each day and you may need to top up their water source more often in summer. If you cannot get to the yard more often try getting together with other liveries and coming up with a rota for filling up the horses’ water trough. Automatic field waterers are great at making sure your horse has a constant supply of water but they can also get mucky with algae and other grime so check them and clean them out on a regular basis. I have heard of people putting fish in their horse’s water buckets to help keep them free from algae but I have no personal experience of this. If you have tried this and it has worked, please leave a comment with some advice down in the comments below.
- Horses also lose salts and minerals when they sweat. When they sweat, horses don’t only lose water but also bodily salts and minerals (known as electrolytes). If you have really worked your horse hard and they have sweated excessively you may need to add some electrolytes to their water/feed. It should be noted that there is a link between excessive sweating and azoturia (tying up) so it is important. However, as a preventative think ahead about the best time to ride to minimise excessive sweating.
- Choose a cooler time to ride. Opt to ride early in the morning or in the evening and avoid the hottest time of the day as horses can suffer from heat stroke and dehydration. Signs of heat stroke include elevated heart and respiratory rates, elevated temperature and increased or absence of sweating. Make sure you allow your horse time to cool down towards the end of the ride and if your horse has sweated up, they will appreciate being sponged down. Offer your horse small amounts of water after exercise as you cool them down.
- Provide shelter. Many horses enjoy being out in the sunshine but they also need some form of shelter so that they can escape the heat and cool down if they choose to. This can be natural shelter in the form of trees or a man-made field shelter. If your field has no shelter at all, you may want to bring your horse into a cool stable at the hottest time of the day. Some people choose to reverse their winter routine and turn their horses out overnight and stable them during the day. As well as protection from the heat, a shelter can also provide a horse some relief from flies.
- Protect them from flies. The warm weather can bring midgies and flies out in force and, as everyone knows, they can be very annoying and irritating for horses. If your horse has sensitive eyes, they can water in bright sunlight and this will attract the flies to them making matters worse. Investing in a fly mask will prevent the flies from irritating your horses eyes and many fly masks also have a UV filter, protecting your horses eyes. If your horse has any injuries, such as cuts or scrapes, this will also attract flies. Flies can cause problems such as infection and can even lay their eggs in wounds, creating problems with maggots. Make sure you treat any injuries quickly and apply insect repellent around the area. Fly repellent can be applied generally before turning your horse out in the field and before riding to help deter flies. If you have any recommendations on which product to use, please leave a comment below. There are also fly rugs that can be used to protect your horse from flies if they are particularly sensitive (and are a necessity for those who suffer from sweet itch- make sure it is suitable to be used for a sweet itch sufferer as some rugs do not offer enough protection). If your horse wears a rug, be sure to take it off and check them underneath daily.
- Apply sunscreen. Horses who have pink skin, around their muzzle for example, will be prone to sunburn. Be sure to stick on a high factor sun cream and consider using a fly mask with UV protection that extends down over the horse’s nose (bear in mind these can be difficult to keep in place so sun cream is definitely important). Many horses will dislike having this done so keep it a positive experience and use treats to reward your horse for keeping still as you apply it.
- Keep an eye on your horses weight. Obesity can cause a number of problems in a horse, such as laminitis, insulin resistance (similar to diabetes in humans) and heart and lung problems to name but a few. If your horse is getting more turnout in the summer it is important to weight-tape or body score your horse on a weekly basis to ensure they do not put on too much weight over the summer. Grass intake can be restricted by the use of electric fencing or a grazing muzzle. If you were giving your horse hard feed over the winter is it necessary any more?
- Regular foot care. With good grass, horses feet may grow quicker in the summer months. Hot weather also results in hard, dry ground which can cause split or cracked hooves. It is important to have regular visits from your farrier or hoof care practitioner to keep hooves trimmed and healthy. You may need to schedule more frequent visits over the summer months. If your horse’s main diet is grass, you may want to consider adding a supplement to ensure they are getting all the nutrients they need to maintain healthy feet.
- Poo pick. It is important to clear your horses paddock of poo on a regular basis to help control parasites alongside a worming/worm count program. Not only is it better for your horse’s health but also the health of your fields. It is easier to do this on a daily basis than let it build up.
If you have any additional advice or tips please leave them below in the comments.