Horse welfare is on the agenda here at the RSPCA, as we gear up for the 2023 Animal Welfare Seminar, ‘Quit horsing around: Advancing horse welfare in Australia'. The Seminar will bring together a diverse range of stakeholders to share knowledge, the current science and thoughts to ensure all horses have a good quality of life, no matter their connections or relationships with people.
With the Seminar coming up, but also temperatures soaring across the country, it’s also timely to consider the best ways to protect your horses from heat exhaustion and heat stress. The hot weather and humidity can take a physical toll on all animals, but it particularly affects horses as their large muscle mass and comparatively small body surface area makes it difficult for them to cool themselves.
In good news though, there are plenty of ways you can help keep your horse safe, happy and cool during these warmer months. Read on for some tips to help prepare and guide you during this hot weather.
Plenty of water and access to shade
It’s important to provide your horses with plenty of clean and accessible drinking water (it’s always better to have more than not enough so ensure abundant supply is available at all times). Did you know horses drink up to 30-50 litres per day? Horses will consume even higher amounts on warmer days as they tend to sweat more and use up water reserves in their body.
It is also important that horses always have access to shade (trees or shelter) as they will become stressed and overheated if they’re not able to find shade. This is especially important for horses who have white skin over areas such as the nostrils and, therefore, get sunburned easily.
If you have the resources, you could consider building one very large shade or shelter (rather than a small one in each paddock) that all of the horses can get to on a daily basis. This can be situated in an area that is linked by laneways to the various paddocks and means the shade/shelter can be used all year round. Paddocks can then be rested and rotated whilst allowing horses to exhibit social behaviours.
Stables tend to be too hot for the use of shade in hot weather (due to the enclosed sides) and should have a shaded outside yard attached so that the horse can get outside.
What about rugs in summer?
Many people rug horses in summer in order to prevent their coat from fading in the sun, however this is not advised as it may trap heat and reduce the horse’s ability to cool themself.
When temperatures exceed 25°C, horses are at risk of heat stress. Using rugs on horses in summer can be a welfare issue and it’s important to remember that rugs do not keep horses cool. A horse naturally has a sleek coat which reflects the sun and a horse will seek shade when they are hot as a natural response. Rugs prevent any cooling breeze from cooling the body. Also, horses are one of the few animals that rely on sweating to cool down and rugs impede this process (by preventing air from passing over the body, evaporating the sweat to regulate temperature).
Ride during the cooler times of the day
During the hottest part of the day in summer (often between midday and 3pm) it’s best to avoid riding or working your horse to reduce exposure to heat and physical exhaustion. When riding in hot weather, it’s best to stick to shaded areas, keep rides short and take frequent water breaks. It’s important that horses are not exercised on very hot days, as they are prone to high water loss through sweat and over-heating.
After your ride, ensure you cool your horse down by hosing them down with cold water and giving them plenty to drink. Riding in the heat can make horses sweat profusely so in addition to water, providing a salt block to replace lost electrolytes may assist in their recovery.
With these tips, no doubt you are on the track to keeping your horse heathy, safe and cool.
Interested in hearing more about horse welfare? Join us online on the afternoons of 22 and 23 February at the 2023 Animal Welfare Seminar to hear from leading experts and the scientific community about key horse welfare issues, including for horses used in competition, racing, leisure, therapy and companionship.
For more information, you can visit the RSPCA Knowledgebase
This piece was originally published in Australian Community Media newspapers
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