In between cleaning up from our trip to Green Mountain last weekend, and getting squared away for our Wenas trip this coming weekend, I was thinking about heat issues for our horses this year. With a solid trail riding and mapping schedule on the calendar we want to make sure that we take the best care possible of our horses. That includes being able to cool them off, not pushing them too hard, and preventing heat stress or heat stroke on the trail.
Some good tips there. You might want to also mention anhydrosis. If they lose the ability to sweat, they are in trouble pretty quickly. Feeding electrolytes, like you mention, is supposed to prevent that.
Years ago when I got back into horses, I competed in NATRC competitive trail rides. I am thankfun for those experiences. It taught me a lot about taking care of my horses.
As riders we need to be familiar with whats NORMAL for each of our horses. Whats a normal resting pulse, Whats a normal respiration, what are normal signs of hydration. If you will learn to take these reading while your horse is resting, then compare them after work while riding, You will be able to see when or if the horse gets stressed.
Most horses should return close to a resting Pulse and Respiration after a 10 minute rest. For most horses that will be 12 heart beats or breaths in a 15 second count. Now many Arab and top conditioned endurance horses will have 4-5 beats in 15seconds. So don't be surprised if you horse is less than the recommended 12 , but do worry if they are over that number. Most vet checks during competition will hold a horse an additional 10 minutes if they don't come down to a resting rate during the 1st 10 minute rest. If at the end of 20 minutes, they have not achieved a resting rate, they are pulled from proceeding any farther down the trail.
During the rest period, You look at hydration. Pressing on the gum and counting the capillary refill time, pulling a skin tent on the shoulder, listening to gut sounds all give you an indication of if the horse is staying hydrated. Again you want to compare these results to numbers you have aquired when the horse was rested and not working.
Since I ride a lot in the high deserts of Utah, water is not always available. So we give the horses ample opportunity to drink at any available water.
During the warmer months. I often carry a spong on a string. I can drop the sponge into any water I pass and squeeze it out on the horses neck or rump with out having to get off or even stop. This helps in two ways, First the water cools the skin and the waters evaporation continues to cool the skin and help disapate heat. Second, the water washes off any sweat that may have acculated on the horse. If sweat is thin and watery it helps disapate heat. But if it becomes a lather, it can actually inhibit the disapersetion of heat from the muscle. So rinsing it off helps the horse to stay cool.
If we stop for a lunch break or vet check during competition, I often pull the saddle and blanket. Removing this tack, allows the horse to loose heat through his back, which provides for a quicker recovery. During any stops I allow the horse to graze on any green grass that may be available. In fact on rides where there are not a lot of strange horses, I carry a set of hobbles and hobble my horse to let them graze at will while I enjoy lunch.
This is slightly off the subject of TRAIL but one thing I learned is that even at home, gently work your horse when it is hot so that they somewhat acclimate themselves to it IF you are planning on trail rides and competing in the show ring. You can't always control the heat. This is ONLY if you plan to compete/ride long trails in the summer.
Years ago everyone at my stable thought I was crazy because I still (gently) worked my horse in triple digit heat. I did a lot of walk/trot/canter but did not hold the gaits for as long as I normally would. Just enough to make him sweat a little then a proper cool off with a couple hours rest, then did it again. When it was all done I would properly cool him off then let him have a nice hosing to relax. Everyone thought I was mean, cruel, etc.
Our July show date reached a scorching 109 degrees!! The judge did NOT opt to let us show without coats and did not postpone the show. People and horses were dropping left and right because they weren't used to it. My horse barely glistened and the judge praised me for having a horse in such good condition. The show didn't phase him one bit, the horses who weren't used to dong anything but sitting in a stall in the heat did not fare well and some even got sick.
So a little work in heat to condition them good....but I do not advise jumping, barrel racing, anything too exhausting and to keep track of your horses breathing and heart rate.
Learn to read your horses hydration.
Press on the gum tissue above the teeth. Press hard enough for the color to go away, count how many seconds it takes for the color to return to normal. Usually on a normally hydrated horse the pink gum color will return in 1-2 seconds. If it take 4-5 seconds to return to pink, They are dehydrated.
Same with the skin pinch. Grab a fold of skin on the front should close to where the neck joins the shoulder. Pull out an inch and release. The fold should return to flat skin in about 1 second. If it takes longer, it is showing that the elasticity is gone and horse is dehydrated.
Another reading is to press your thumb against the horses juglar vein on the lower neck. Watch as the vein fills going up toward the head. The filling is very visable to see. Count how many seconds it take for the vein to fill. A horse that is dehydrated will be much slower in the fill.
Gut sounds also help you to access a horses hydration. Put you ear to the horses barrel. You will be able to hear the gurgle of food/water moving through the gut. By practice you can learn what is a normal gut sound. When you take a break while riding, take a listen if the gut sound are reduced, then you need to get some feed and water in the horse. Colic is when the gut stops moving.
All of these take a little practice to learn what is normal for YOUR horse. By taking notice of these while your horse is just standing around in the pasture, you will leanr what his resting rates are. Then you will have something to compare to when you check during a work out.
If you want more accuracy and are willing to spend some money. You can buy a stethoscope to help listen to heart rates, breathing and gut sounds. They make Chronograph watches that will display your horses heart rate while you ride. This way you can see how high his heart rate gets while trotting, Cantering etc and the display is easier to read than trying to count the pulse on his knee.
I would encourage any horseman who want to learn more about reading these signs to participate in a NATRC competitive trail ride. Even if you just work as a volunteer and learn how access a horse on the trail.