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Betsy Carter’s Horse Scene: Be wary of bad mix of heat and horses

When the weather forecast repeatedly says it is going to be hot and humid, you know summer is officially here in Virginia. Luckily, we’ve had about four days of 95 degrees or above followed by a few days of 85 to 92. So, we get a little relief and can ride more comfortably.

It is especially daunting when the weather forecasters tell us that the heat and humidity pose dangers to our health. They are, of course, not talking about our horses, who wear coats of hair at all times. They cannot put on cooler clothes on hot days. If a horse had his choice, he would probably stand quietly in the shade, but we ask them to exercise regardless of the temperature. Therefore, it is the human’s responsibility to protect the horse from the heat.

There are things you can do to make riding better during the hottest days.

First, it is best to ride either early in the morning or late at night. If this is not doable and you must ride during the day, there are a few things you can do.

For both you and your horse, I find it helps to wet down your shirt and hose off your horse before riding. It doesn’t feel very cool when you are standing still because the humidity prevents you and your horse from evaporating the moisture, which is how we cool ourselves. However, as soon as you start trotting, the breeze you create will keep you and your horse cooler.

This is about the only thing I’ve ever found that helps at all, and you can and should repeat hosing off your horse during the ride if you must ride for a long time or must do strenuous work.

After riding, a cooling shower for the horse is a must. The eventing world uses cold water immediately on the horse to get his core temperature down as quickly as possible, and they report that it does not shock or hurt the horse. I’m sure they are dealing with near-emergency conditions. So when I see that my horse flinches away from cold water sprayed onto his hot skin, I must conclude that it is too uncomfortable for him, so I start with tepid water, which I test on my arm first then move on to cool, then cold water quickly.

To really cool your horse down after riding in the heat, you must scrape off the water just a few seconds after it is on the horse and keep hosing and scraping until his skin feels cool and the water no longer turns warm.

When you are finished hosing him off, you must scrape off the water from his skin or he will reheat, since, again, the humidity prevents the water from evaporating, and he will be even hotter.

Standing in front of a fan will cool him out more, and he will move away from the direct flow of air when he feels cool.


    Through July 1: Warrenton Pony Show; VHSA Associate Summer Show at Deep Run.

    June 30: Wavertree dressage; JCHSS dressage; Cedar Creek HT CT and dressage.

    June 30–July 1: Looking Glass Farm dressage

Betsy Carter can be reached at The Free Lance–Star, 616 Amelia St., Fredericksburg, Va. 22401; or by fax at 540/373-8455.

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