This is an old post (from 2015) but considering that the temps are climbing now and the humidity (which has been unusually absent thus far) has reared it’s ugly head again, it’s very relevant. We want everyone to be safe in the heat, humans and equines alike. So raise your water bottles up and repeat after me, “The hotter the temps, the more aqua I drink.”
Prepare yourselves, because what I’m about to say may come as a shock to some of you: It’s hot outside. And I don’t mean hot as in “Oh, look! The sun has finally come out to play! Maybe if I run around, I’ll get sweaty.” I mean hot as in I’m pretty sure this is what it feels like underneath a rocket when it’s three feet off the ground and there’s fire coming out of the turbines-jets-propellers-whatever-it-is-that-launches-it-into-space. One full minute outside (maybe two, if you’re like me and are a little more heat resistant) at high noon and you’ll be re-enacting that famous scene from the Wizard of Oz. I’m meeeeeeeelting!
Unlike most sports, riding is a year-long activity. So we get to enjoy all the wonderful benefits of mother nature day in and day out, even when it’s 100+ degrees outside. To help you beat the heat, here are a few warm (read: scorching hot) weather tips for you and your equine partner, so you can both stay cool(er) and safe as summer heats up.
Keepin’ it Classy & Cool In The Saddle
Change Your Riding Time – This one is really a no-brainer. The heat is worse in the middle of the day. If you’re taking lessons, your instructor will likely provide you with times that are either earlier in the morning or later in the evening, so everyone involved can be marginally more comfortable. But when you’re hacking, we recommend that you schedule your rides between 7:30 – 10:00 AM and 5:30 – 8:30 PM to take advantage of the cooler temperatures.
Wear light colored clothes – Light colors reflect light (including sunlight), while dark colors absorb light. So while your black or navy breaches might look killer on you, they’re going to take all that glorious light pouring from the sun and soak it in like a veritable sponge, trapping in the heat and making you that much hotter. This also can be applied to your horse as well–dark pads are going to have the same affect on him as they would on you.
Invest in breathability – Our body’s natural cooling-response to heat is to create perspiration so it can evaporate on our skin, taking the heat with it. But this process can be hindered by heavy fabrics that trap in heat and moisture (yes, cotton, I’m looking right at you). So when you’re choosing your riding outfit for the day, reach for something lightweight and breathable. There are lots of fabrics out there (for both tops and bottoms) that wick away moisture from the body, leaving you drier and cooler. Even your socks can have wicking properties.
One of my favorites is the omni-freeze line by Columbia, which, in addition to pulling sweat away from the skin, is made from fabric that touts the ability to improve the cooling process by converting the heat from your body into little rings of cooling moisture.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate – Drink plenty of water, Gatorade, Powerade, Propel, or some other form of hydrating liquid (sorry, Dr. Pepper & Company, you’re out of the running). Treat it like your new best friend. Have some while you’re walking around, getting your stuff together; while you’re grooming; while you’re tacking up; when you’re riding; when you’re cooling off; when you’re untacking–you get the picture. Don’t be stingy with your new liquid friend, either. Bring it in bulk. Like in a 20, 32, or 48 oz container. The more you drink, the better you’ll be able to fight off mild dehydration effects like being dizzy or lightheaded, lethargic, or headachy.
To keep your beverage of choice cooler for longer, plan head. Fill the container almost about a third of the way up with whatever liquid you like (my preference of choice is water, but that’s just me), put the top on, and then let it sit in the freezer over night. Fill it up when you’re ready to walk out the door. Your chunk of ice in the bottom will melt slower–thus sticking around longer–than a handful of ice cubes because it has a larger surface area to distribute the heat.
If you forget to bring anything to drink, or run out, we do have a vending machine near the front of the barn where you can buy water or a flavored sports drink (as well as those fizzy caffeinated beverages that are full of sugar, taste good, but don’t hydrate at all).
What if I get overheated?
Despite every precaution, it might happen. Every day is different. Some days our bodies are able to handle the heat just fine. Other days, maybe not so much. It doesn’t help that in addition to the high temperatures, we also have extreme humidity, which makes it difficult to cool off through sweat evaporation alone. If, when you dismount from riding and find that you’re weak in the knees (not in the good way), feeling dizzy, or nauseous, chances are you’re too hot. Be sure to tell someone, especially if you’re having difficulties untacking your horse. To cool off, try one or more of the following:
- Take off your helmet (one of the places were heat is trapped) and sit in front of one of the fans. Take slow breaths if you feel like your heart is racing. If you need to, put your head between your knees.
- Run a rag under cold water and put it on the back of your neck.
- Splash cold water on your face and/or on the top of your head.
- Run cold water over the inside of your wrists.
- Drink some water.
If you’re still in the tack and you begin to feel faint, sick, or you can’t catch your breath inform your instructor (or a riding pal) immediately and halt (this is REALLY important. No one knows your heat tolerance better than you, so you have to be your own advocate. DON’T PUSH YOURSELF). Ask someone to bring you water and splash it on your face, your neck, and your hands. Take slow, careful sips of water and try to regulate your breathing. Let someone assist you while you dismount, take off your helmet, and find a place to sit.
Workin’ Cool & Collected While Under Saddle
Know Your Horse – Horses are just as affected by the heat as people are. And just like people, they each have a different tolerance level. So when you’re riding, it’s important to know your horse’s fitness level and how much work they can take in the heat without proper breaks. In a lesson, your instructor will allot time for your horse to walk around to catch his breath, especially if he’s breathing hard. When you’re hacking, you should do the same. If it’s really hot (and humid), shorten your ride and lighten your work load. Horses sweat to cool off, just like we do. And when the sweat can’t dry, they sweat more and more.
Water Breaks Are Important – On average, a horse drinks approximately five to ten gallons of water per day. It’s important to know that, among other things, hydration plays a vital part in the horse’s digestive track–it’s what keeps all that forage moving smoothly through the intestines. Without it, an impaction can occur. Like a semi-truck blocking all three lanes of a highway, the impaction can cause a back-up, which leads to a colicking horse. So, when you’re out in the arena riding, be sure to stop by the water trough a couple of times throughout your ride to encourage your horse to drink.
And while you may not be able to make a horse drink, you can entice him to do so. After your ride, put 1/3 or 1/2 of a scoop of senior feed in a (clean!) bucket and let it sit in some cool water for a few minutes. The senior feed breaks down in the water (and if you leave it long enough, will dissolve completely), leaving the water slightly sweetened. Think of it as the horse-y version of Mio–it puts just enough flavor in the water to make it irresistible to your equine companion. On days that it’s especially hot, or I know my boy has worked hard, I may throw in a little bit of salt or some electrolyte powder with the senior food, just to help further replenish the nutrients naturally lost through sweat.
If you’re not sure if your horse is hydrated enough, you can always pinch the skin on the neck. A well-hydrated horse’s skin will smooth right back out (water plays a role in the elasticity of the skin), where as a dehydrated horse’s skin will take longer to smooth out. You can also check the gums–colorless or pale gums are a sure sign of dehydration.
Cool Downs Take Longer – After you’re done with your ride, and you’ve walked around for a few minutes, your horse may still be breathing hard just because it’s hot. Once you’ve untacked, be sure to run a curry over the body before throwing the hose on him. Currying helps stimulate the skin. When you do hose him off, focus first on the large veins in the inside of the hind legs, the chest, and neck. As you move around the body, you should be sure to wipe the water off your horse’s body. This takes away the water heated from his body and cools him down quicker by not allowing hot water to stand on his skin. Once you’re done hosing, squeegeeing, and drying him off, it’s also a good idea to go for a light hand walk/graze. This will not only aid in drying your horse–which will further cool him off–but will ensure that any vitals still elevated from the ride (heart rate, breathing, temperature, etc) return to normal.