Skip to content
back to home

Exercise, travel and competing in hot weather

Hot weather can present challenges to horses, especially if they are competing, are old, overweight, or have an existing health problem.

  • Last reviewed: 3rd August 2022
81 Travelling 81 Travelling

Failure to prepare, or poor management when exercising or competing in hot weather, can lead to dehydration and in very serious cases, heat exhaustion.

Water

When competing or training, make sure your horse has access to water right up until the time you ride/drive and as soon as possible after exercise. This does not increase the risk of colic and should be encouraged - endurance horses for example, will be offered water at various stops for the entirety of a competition.

If you are concerned your horse isn’t drinking enough, see our advice on increasing your horse’s water intake.

Exercise

Exercising in hotter temperatures is energy consuming and unless you are specifically trying to acclimatise your horse (for example due to your competition schedule) to hotter conditions, which can often take two weeks of regular daily exercise, it is advised to exercise them early in the morning or late evening when the day is at its coolest. If you are competing at a scheduled time, and exercise during the warmest part of the day cannot be avoided, see our steps below for keeping your horse cool at summer competitions.

Be mindful of your horse’s individual health and wellbeing. Horses that are carrying excess weight, not fit or have an existing condition such as Cushing’s Disease, are likely to struggle in the hot weather.

Don’t forget to wear hi-vis if you are riding out. Even in bright sunshine, patches of shade can make it difficult for drivers to spot horses on the road.

 

Travelling

Where possible, aim to plan your journey so that it misses peak traffic to reduce the chance of getting caught up in any queues or congestion. Plan ahead and consider the action needed should your vehicle breakdown. Standing on a stationary trailer or lorry for long periods can be detrimental to your horse’s heath.

Ensure you travel with a sufficient supply of water, particularly if your horse is a fussy drinker away from home. Monitor your horse and look out for any signs of dehydration.

If you are on a long journey, plan rest breaks every 2-3 hours1, provide water (if this is not already left supplied) and remove any wet bedding or faeces if it is safe to do so. Plan in extra time for your arrival to allow your horse to become accustomed to their surroundings, especially if they are likely to be stressed or unsettled. Ensure you provide plenty of water and forage.

After a competition, do not travel your horse home until you are confident they have fully recovered. Be mindful that this may involve an overnight stay if you have concerns. Ensure to plan ahead and book stables in advance if you believe they will be necessary.

Cooling down

The most effective way to cool your horse is by continuously pouring cold water over their body. By leaving the water to sit on your horse’s body and not scraping it off, it will evaporate and contribute to the cooling process2,3,4. If using a hose, make sure this is introduced to your horse gradually to start with, until they are comfortable with the water. This can be harder to facilitate at competitions so as an alternative, you may wish to continuously sponge your horse from buckets of cold water.

When cooling a horse down after exercise, pay particular attention to the areas where the tack has sat. Be sure to wash off any dried sweat to avoid future irritation or discomfort. 

Walking your horse helps remove the heat and lactic acid from the muscles, as well as assisting heart rate recovery and reducing subsequent muscle soreness.

Monitor vital signs and behaviours, before, during and after. Make sure recovery rates are normal and look out for signs of heat-related illness.

Electrolytes

Electrolytes are salts and minerals that help with many different bodily functions such as urine production, digestion and muscle contraction. These can be lost in the horse’s sweat, breath, urine and droppings. A significant loss of electrolytes can cause dehydration, impaired performance and potentially lead to the development of azoturia (painful muscle cramps).

During competition and training, electrolyte losses can be considerable, particularly during hot weather.

Signs of electrolyte loss in horses include:

  • Dull coat and eyes
  • Lethargy / poor performance
  • Dark urine

If your horse is in medium work or above, to help prevent the risk of dehydration and keep your horse at peak condition it may be beneficial to feed electrolytes daily, rather than just during times of competition5,6. Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on use and dose. If you add electrolytes to water, make sure your horse doesn’t mind the taste as they may not drink anything at all so it’s important to offer a bucket of plain water as well.

For those horses not in competitive work, providing your horse with a salt lick will help replace vital nutrients that are easily lost through sweating.

References
  1. The British Horse Society. Complete Horsemanship Volume 4. Kenilworth Press of Quiller Publishing Ltd. (2019). Pg. 199.
  2. Kang, H., et al. (2021) Comparison of post-exercise cooling methods in horses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 100, 103-485
  3. Takahashi, Y., et al. (2020). A Comparison of Five Cooling Methods in Hot and Humid Environments in Thoroughbred Horses. Journal of equine veterinary science, 91, 103-130.
  4. Marlin, D. J., et al. (1998). Post exercise changes in compartmental body temperature accompanying intermittent cold water cooling in the hyperthermic horse. Equine veterinary journal, 30(1), 28–34.
  5. Coenen, M. (2005) Exercise and stress: impact on adaptive processes involving water and electrolytes. Livestock Production Science. 92(2) P131-145.
  6. Assenza, A., et al. (2014). Evaluation of Serum Electrolytes and Blood Lactate Concentration During Repeated Maximal Exercise in Horse. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. 34(10) P 1175-1180.