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Beat the Heat: Summer and Horses

Ah, summer. It's the time of the year for tanned arms and frighteningly white legs that we horse people know all too much about. This also means flies, heat, and more riding time! What better way to start of summer than having your beat-the-heat kit ready?

Bzzz. Bzzz. The annoying sound of flies. I know I get annoyed at them just as much as my mares do! There are hundreds of "home recipes" out there, and there are dozens of fly sprays/wipes/creams out there too.

It is really important to make sure to follow the directions on any commercially made fly be-gone(s). Some may only work for 24 hours (and work REALLY well for 24 hours), and others will work for 7 days but are mediocre with their protection. Take a look at the label when checking out fly be-gone products.

My personal favorite for fly spray is Farnam Bronco Gold. This spray has never, ever let me down! It also leaves the horses really, really shiny!! For a 32 oz bottle, it retails around 12 to 13 dollars. I pick it up at my local tack store, but not everyone lives in IL! There are several websites that carry it online. Google will be your friend!

One of my favorite ointments/creams to go to is Farnam SWAT. Sometimes, my horses really don't want to be sprayed, and SWAT saves the day! This product is also around 12 dollars, and it is something you apply daily. It is really helpful around the face, or if your horse has open wounds.

Another helpful tools to saving your horses from the pesky Bzzzers are fly masks, sheets and boots! These come in a variety of colors, sizes, and types. Some are only for riding and others are the let's-hope-my-horse-doesn't-rip-it-again type. Again, I got my fly masks from my local store, but there are TONS of sites that sell them! Can even look on sites for secondhand ones for cheaper!

It is so, so important to make sure that your horse stays cool throughout the summer. It can be harder for a horse to cool down than a human! Even with a human's help.

For starter's, we need to know what the signs of overheating in horses are. First off is rapid breathing. If a horse is breathing hard and rapid for a long period of time after a workout, then something is wrong. Temperature is the second factor. A normal horse's temperature ranges around 99 degrees F to 101 degrees F (37.2-38.3 degrees C). Anything above 101-102 is dangerous. Time to call the vet! The third sign of overheating is dehydration. If you pull the skin of a horse, and it doesn't bounce back down, your horse is dehydrated. Another sign is the color of the gums. To check this, push on the gums. Healthy gums are pink, and will return to being pink shortly after being pushed on (should only be a few seconds). The final sign of overheating is the horse "being out of it". If the horse isn't focusing, isn't trying to eat or drink, isn't trying to fight off flies, then something is wrong. All of these signs warrant a phone call/text to your nearest veterinarian.

To prevent overheating, make sure you don't work in too hot/humid of weather. If you MUST ride, only keep it short and sweet. To cool down after riding, make sure to walk the horse out. Just like after a long run, we can't just go and plop down on the couch and just expect to recover, we have to walk around and let our body slow down. Horses do this too. You should always walk your horse for 10 to 15 minutes (more is even better!). The next step is to wash down your horse with cold water. Start at the legs and move up. Make sure to scrape off any excess water because after time, the water can trap heat in, and that defeats the entire purpose of a bath. Let the horse drink its fill in water. Only after the horse has stopped breathing rapidly, is normal to the touch, and isn't sweating anymore, can you put the horse up.

Make sure you take care of yourself too! Keep up with the bug spray and sunscreen, and never run out of water! It's just as important to make sure you are cool and hydrated too! Heat exhaustion, which can easily be followed by heat stroke, can happen quickly. Make sure to stay hydrated, and take breaks in cool air if necessary. If you realize you are becoming exhausted because of the heat, the safest option is to stop what you're doing and cool down.

The symptoms of heat exhaustion are: fatigue, headache, nausea, agitation, dizziness, cold skin, and muscle cramps. Being excessively thirsty also plays a role in heat exhaustion. STOP if you feel any of those symptoms! Do not risk having heat stroke!

If heat exhaustion is allowed to occur, heat stroke may soon follow. Heat stroke happens when the body's temperature reaches over 104 degrees F, and it cannot cool itself down properly. Vomiting, nausea, rapid heart rate, hot skin, convulsions of limbs, etc. are signs of heat stroke. You MUST get help if this occurs! Serious damage can happen to your body if you do not cool it down.

To cool down your body if heat exhaustion is suspected, place ice packs under your arm pits and near your groin. Drink plenty of water, and loosen tight clothing. If at all possible, mist the body with water, and wipe afterwards (just like giving a horse a bath).

If heat stroke is suspected, you need to call the local emergency (i.e. 911) to get help. Delaying any help with heat stroke could leave to serious brain injury, and possibly death.

Please be careful this summer, and take care of yourself and your horse. There are plenty of days during the summer to ride, it will be okay if you have to miss a couple! Safety first, fun later!

Now that the spiel is out of the way, we can get down to the fun! What are we going to do with our pretty ponies (horses) with all of the time we have on our hands?

There are several fun activities you can do over the summer.

Hit the trail! Google/Bing/Yahoo will be your best friends! Search, search, search. You may never know what you may find! Take your horse in your trailer, or even ride it there, and have fun. Both you and your horse will enjoy the time out.

Learn something new! Get a trainer or start taking lessons. You can even teach yourself something new. Check out YouTube to learn how to trick train your horse, or do natural horsemanship. The sky's the limit for what you can learn!

Go swimming! Horses and water go together like chocolate and ice cream (unless it's my mare... than it's like ice cream and an open flame). Wear your bathing suit, and have some fun in the water. Go to the beach, to a pond, maybe a creek, whatever is near you!

Show! Find some local shows and have some fun. They don't have to be big rated shows, just some simple, walk-trot classes. Get in touch with your horse, and enjoy the simple things! These shows are usually cheaper too!

Get in touch with your horse! Take your horse on walks, desensitize your horse to new things, or groom more often. Just have fun learning your horse's personality.

Do obstacle courses! This is great for both the trail and your horse's strength/riding. It can be good for you too! Set up some barrels, poles, logs, tree stumps, tarps, whatever you can find, and set up your course. It can be a lot of fun, and will help in the the future.

Have fun out there! Happy riding and stay safe!