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Horse care in hot weather

During hot weather there are a number of steps that can be taken to ensure your horse is kept comfortable and healthy. Poor management can lead to lethargy, sunburn and dehydration, and in severe cases can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. 

  • Last reviewed: 3rd August 2022
Two Grazing Horses Two Grazing Horses

Increasing water intake

A constant supply of clean, fresh water is essential to help prevent dehydration.

A 500kg horse can drink between 20-30 litres (approximately 3-4 buckets) of water per day and this can increase to up to 50-60 litres (approximately 6-7 buckets) per day in hot weather.

Water has a key role in your horse’s digestive system, where it is continually secreted into and reabsorbed from the gut. Changes in hydration, by not having enough water, can cause disturbances to the digestive process and how food passes along the gut. This increases the risk of impaction colic which occurs when a firm ball of feed material blocks the intestine.

Soak hay

Introduce gradually to reduce the risk of colic and soak for at least six hours in cold water. Less time may be needed in warmer weather1,2

Water sources

Aim to have more than one water source available in the field and where possible avoid corners to prevent conflict. 

Flavouring

Add a flavouring of mint or apple juice.

Change buckets daily

Change buckets in your stable daily to ensure freshness. 

Water left too long can become unpalatable.

Use Enrichment

For example, cut up your horse’s fruit and veg. Pour on some water (or mix with some apple juice and water) and freeze to make a fruit/veg ice block. If feeding any new fruit and veg, it is extremely important to introduce new foods gradually over a period of 10-14 days to reduce the risk of colic. Ensure your horse has good dental health to help prevent the risk of choke. Always feed in moderation to ensure your horse continues to have a balanced diet. When introducing new enrichment always supervise your horse, and if you have any concerns, remove it.

Shelter

Shelter or shade is preferable in hot weather. If your horse is turned out, a field shelter provides the best protection from the sun. The shade provided by trees and hedges may provide a good substitute but remember that the shade will move with the sun, so there may be certain times of the day when it isn’t accessible to your horse. If natural shelter is used make yourself aware of poisonous trees and hedges which are unsafe for use around horses.

If you have the facilities, stabling horses through the hottest parts of the day, providing their stable remains cool, is an option to consider. However, inadequately ventilated stables can become uncomfortably hot and stuffy and your horse’s management must be changed gradually to reduce the risk of colic.

Flies

Flies are a hot weather menace! To help reduce your horse’s exposure:

  • Keep your horse in during the day and out at night
  • Use thin fly sheets and masks
  • Apply a fly repellent spray – always follow the manufacturers’ instructions and do not use on inflamed or broken skin
  • Remove droppings frequently from the paddock and stable
  • Position the muck heap away from where the horse is kept where possible.

Sun protection

Sun cream isn’t just for humans! Horses with pink skin and grey or white hair are most susceptible to burning so sun protection is highly recommended, especially on pink noses. 

Looking After Your Horse In The Sun

Watch

Looking after your horse in the sun

Grazing

The hot weather may affect your grazing, as the sun can dry out the grass, effectively turning your grazing into hay! This grass will still provide enough calories for your horse; however, the nutritional value may decrease. A low-calorie balancer or vitamin and mineral supplement may be required to ensure your horse is getting exactly what they need. A horse grazed on sun dried grass does not necessarily need additional forage assuming they are not losing weight. For horses in medium-hard work additional calories may be needed.

Assess the level of work your horse is in before providing additional forage, and fat score your horse to help assess whether they need any additional calories. Remember, your horse will not be burning as many calories through the summer, as they naturally would through the colder winter months to keep warm.

Be extra careful if you own an overweight horse or a horse with an underlying condition such as Equine Metabolic Syndrome or Cushing’s Disease and rain is forecast. The combination of rain and sun will cause the grass to grow quickly and if you let your horse eat too much, this could increase the chances of laminitis. Be prepared to limit grazing if rain is on the horizon and introduce your horse slowly back to what will be a very different forage compared to what they have been eating before the rain. 

If your horse is kept on a bare paddock be aware they could consume more soil or sand, increasing the risk of colic. You may need to feed additional forage to help prevent this. Introduce any new forage gradually over a minimum of 10-14 days. 

References
  1. Rendle, D et al. (2018) Equine obesity: current perspectives. UK Vet Equine. Vol 2.  
  2. Furtado, T et al. (2018). When the grass is greener: The Equine Weight Management guide for every horse, every yard, and every owner. The University of Liverpool/ Horse Trust. 

Thanks to Dr Teresa Hollands, Senior Teaching Fellow (Veterinary Nutrition) at the University of Surrey for her assistance with the grazing advice.