You and I have the luxury of escaping the heat by going into an air-conditioned environment, but unfortunately, our horses do not. Just like with people, the heat can rob horses of water and electrolytes, leaving them vulnerable to some preventable conditions.
Water is key to keeping your horse healthy during the heat. Horses can drink up to 20 gallons or so a day when they are burning through their bodily fluids to cool themselves. We need to do our best to not only provide this water, but to also keep it palatable. If the water is not clean or is too warm, they may not drink it.
To help keep it at a reasonable temperature, first try to use a larger watering trough. The larger volume of water will be a heat sink and take more heat energy to change temperature. Second, keep the water in the shade. When it is warm out, the ambient heat will warm the water. Add the sun beating on the surface, and now you have infrared energy trying to heat it also. Think about those small automatic metal waterers sitting in the hot sun. With the water not flowing through them, they can get very warm and discourage your horse from drinking from them.
Not only does the water need to be a good temperature for drinking, but it also needs to be clean. Dirty water allows bacteria and other organisms to grow in it. Scrub out those waterers at least once a week. Also, horses like to defecate in their waterer, especially in smaller stalls like box stalls. Make sure you are checking those waterers at every feeding to ensure there are not a bunch of “floaters” in there!
Now that I’ve presented the importance of keeping the water clean, let’s examine a few things you can do to increase your horse’s water intake. The first is electrolytes. Electrolytes are different salts in your body. They are necessary for normal functions. They are lost in sweating. Supplementing with electrolytes not only replaces these, but it makes the animal more “salty”. This triggers their mechanisms to induce thirst and encourage them to drink more. Another minor way to get your horse to ingest more water is to soak the feed. Pellets or hay can be soaked to mildly increase the water intake.
Besides water consumption, what else can we do to keep the horses cooler? In your barns or other areas with limited air flow, you can use fans. The fans will not cool the air itself, but they will increase the evaporation of sweat off of the horse. Providing shade will minimize the heat your horse has to deal with and has the added benefit of decreasing their skin cancer risk. In hot, dry climates, misters will help actually to cool the air around your horse.
The last thing to consider in keeping your horse healthy in the heat is to plan your activities with the heat in mind. If you are riding, ride early in the morning or late in the day. If you are hauling, haul overnight and stop and have the horse out of the trailer during the day. The time of day can really change the effect on your animal.
Hopefully, these have been a few good ideas to help beat the heat. Your veterinarian will know your horse better, so discuss with them any additional ideas on how to best deal with heat issues in your area and with your animal.