Summer is here! Here in Iowa, it felt pretty late in coming. Worse, the honeymoon is already over. The sun is out. Temps are rising. Some days it’s just too hot to consider climbing atop a warm, sweaty animal.
How hot is too hot to ride?
First things first. Generally speaking, you should be very careful with your horse if you add the temperature and humidity readings together and the total is 140 or higher. Also take into consideration your horse’s fitness level, how long you ride, and how hard you ride. Older and younger horses are more vulnerable and need more recovery time.
We’ve discovered that one of the most important factors is actually not the days, but the nights. Are temps dropping when the sun goes down? If so, your horse will cool down at night as well. Here in Iowa, we can get strings of days with no break in the heat. If nights are staying in the 70s and 80s, it’s hard for the core temperature of the horse to lower. That’s when you have to be extra careful. If you ride several days in a row and your horse can’t cool down in between, you can do real harm.
Give your horse the spa treatment
Okay, so you’ve decided it’s too hot to ride. This doesn’t mean no horse time! There are many things you can do to help your horse feel more comfortable in the heat.
Beat the bugs
Summer comes with bugs! Bugs bite and pester and can cause irritation. Give your horse a thorough grooming, treat bites or raw areas with thuja zinc ointment, cover white skin that likes to burn with sunscreen or zinc, and keep a lookout for ticks. If you find any, don’t pull them off with your hands. Use a tick picker and dispose of them in a chemical bath. Use an oil based fly spray to keep the critters at bay a little longer.
Skip the bath
While cool water can offer relief for your horse in the short term, the moisture can actually stay in his coat and cause heat to build as the sun beats down. Especially if it’s humid or your horse doesn’t spend all his time in the shade, a bath can lead to cooling problems while also stripping the coat of the natural oils that help keep the bugs and sun at bay. It’s generally best to let the horse’s natural sweat provide cooling as needed.
However, if your horse is overheating or you realize after a ride he is drenched in sweat, you can use water to help cool off. Run cool water over the entire horse, starting with the legs and feet first. (Cool water on a hot back can be uncomfortable or even cause shock in extreme cases.) Once the horse is all wet, stop, and scrape off the excess water. Repeat this process until the water coming off the horse is no longer warm. Then scrape the horse as dry as possible and walk the horse in the shade or inside a cool space until the horse is dry. Never, ever turn a wet horse out in humid heat. The excess water will stay in the coat and trap the heat in, which can lead to true distress.
Brush, don’t clip
You might consider the natural hair your horse grows in ears, on the muzzle, and on the fetlocks unsightly or even hot, but it’s there for a reason! These areas are particularly vulnerable to both sun and pests. Don’t deprive your horse of the protection this hair offers. Do use a flexible rubber curry and stiff brush to keep fetlock hair clean.
Set some groundwork goals
Groundwork can be a blast. This does not mean longing. Whatever you do this summer, do not chase your horse in endless circles without a plan. Effective groundwork can be accomplished entirely at the walk. It may not seem as romantic as galloping bareback through the dew-drenched fields, but it’s an important building block to build trust and communication. Need some ideas? Stay tuned. We’ve got a Getting Started with Groundwork How To coming soon.
Horsemanship via fiction fix
Okay, so your horse is as clean and happy as he can be in this weather. You’re ready to put your feet up and cool yourself down. Did you ever wish you could absorb some real, useful, horsemanship tips while losing yourself in a feel-good love story set on a working ranch? Possibly in a bubble bath with a glass of wine for company? Well guess what? You can. The Tipped Z novels are works of fiction, but the horsemanship is real.
Horsemanship via video binge
Or if you’re looking for less passive ways to absorb some new tips and trips, fortunately you can steep yourself in horsemanship without even breaking a sweat. We recommend:
7 Clinics with Buck Brannaman
This DVD set is a bit pricey, but it’s worth every penny. With tons of useful information packed onto every disc, you’ll have to watch them more than once to absorb every tidbit. Also check your local library. Ours has these in their collection.
The Horseman’s Gazette
Anyone interested in improving their horsemanship can’t go wrong with The Eclectic Horseman’s video series. Each video contains a selection of short and digestible videos, each exploring an important aspect of riding and handling horses.
So, the website needs a facelift, but we can personally vouch for the service. It’s like Netflix but for horses. When you subscribe, you get access to an entire library of horsemanship DVDs. We recommend anything with Martin Black, Bryan Neubert, Joe Wolter, Richard Caldwell, and Peter Campbell.
Whatever you do, take heart! Summer doesn’t last long. Soon we’ll all be back in our Carharts overalls and 17 layers of silk and wool…