When the summer months roll around and temperatures start to soar, you might be wondering if your horse is too hot. If you don’t have much experience in this area, it is difficult to tell if your horse is just tired from being worked, or if they’re actually in danger from being too hot. After living through some hot days with horses and researching the topic thoroughly for myself, here is what I was able to learn.
How can you tell if a horse is too hot? A horse that is too hot might demonstrate the following symptoms.
- Continuous rapid breathing
- Unwillingness to move
- Weak or sluggish movements
- Disinterest in the environment
- Skin that does not retake its form quickly after a pinch test
- Discolored gums
- High heart rate
- Body temperature above 105 degrees Fahrenheit
Being able to tell if your horse is too hot is essential if you’re planning on working with them at all throughout the warmer months of the year, so here is further info on each symptom so you can confidently recognize them.
Symptoms That Indicate Your Horse is Too Hot
Continuous Rapid Breathing
It is absolutely normal for a horse to breathe intensely directly after being exercised. It is not normal, however, for them to continue breathing in such an intense manner well after they’ve had sufficient time to recover.
If they continue to breathe heavily after five to ten minutes of cool out and rest, then they are likely overheated. It is a good idea to stay aware of the normal amount of time it takes your horse to recover in the milder months of the year so that when the temperature heats up, you’ll easily be able to recognize a recovery for your horse that isn’t normal.
Unwillingness to Move
If your horse refuses to move, it might not be because they’re feeling stubborn. It could be because they are suffering from overheating. An unwillingness to move can be one of the clear indicators that something isn’t right, so you be on the lookout for this unusual behavior.
Weak or Sluggish Movements
Horses are powerful creatures, and their movements typically reflect this. If your horse is moving very slowly or sluggishly, there is likely something wrong.
A horse that is too hot will suffer from fatigue; they’ll respond slow and seem sleepy. This typically tends to happen to humans when we get too hot, so make sure that you can recognize these signs in your horse as well.
Disinterest in the Environment
We all know that horses love their grass. But a horse that is too hot might even lose interest in eating because of the energy it requires.
Additionally, an overheated horse might stop responding to their environment as they would normally. Things they normally take notice of, like treats and strange sounds, might suddenly seem disinteresting to them.
Skin that Fails the Pinch Test
A pinch test is easy to perform on a horse, and it is a clear indicator that your horse is dehydrated. A dehydrated horse is far more likely to overheat, as their bodies will not be able to produce the sweat that is needed to help keep them cool.
To do a pinch test, pinch some of the skin just above a horse’s shoulder on their neck. When they are hydrated, this skin should retake its form right away.
If the horse is dehydrated, the skin will hold its form for at least 2 seconds or longer. Perform the test several times in the same spot on the horse, as you will get varying results pinching in other areas.
The normal color for a horse’s gums is a bright pink color. In addition, the gums should be wet to the touch. If your horse’s gums are any color other than bright pink, and they aren’t moist to the touch, these are clear signs that the horse is dehydrated, putting them at increased risk of overheating.
High Heart Rate
The normal heart rate for a horse that has had the opportunity to rest after a workout is between 36-44 beats per minute. If a horse’s heart rate consistently stays higher than this after having been given sufficient time to rest, then this is an indicator that they’re in danger of overheating.
My recommendation is to get in the habit of checking your horse’s resting heart rate from time to time to get a clear idea of what it should be under normal circumstances.
Body Temperature Above 105 Degrees Fahrenheit (40.6 Degrees Celcius)
The normal rectal temperature for a horse is between 99 and 101 degrees Fahrenheit, (37.2 to 38.3 Celcius) although it is normal for it to increase slightly during and after a workout. If you check your horse’s temperature after they’ve had 10 to 20 minutes of rest and it’s above 105 degrees Fahrenheit, then there is a serious issue going on.
What to Do if Your Horse is Too Hot
Once you’ve determined that your horse is too hot, you will want to take action immediately to help them. You can start by hosing them down with cool water to help their body temperature return to normal. Scrape off excess water once you do that as water tends to insulate temperature, and you don’t want to insulate a hot horse.
Once you’ve done that, place them in an area that offers shade from the sun, whether that’s in an airy barn with a fan or the shade under a big grove of trees. The temperature in these areas will be a few degrees cooler and will offer relief for your horse.
Get your horse to drink some water. Usually, if a horse is hot, they’ll take a bucket of water willingly. However, if they refuse to drink, cut up some apples and put the pieces in the water. The horse will try to get the apples and suck up some water in the process.
Avoid feeding your horse grain if they are in this condition. An overheated and dehydrated horse can have problems eating and digesting their food that can cause choke or colic.
Horses develop sore and stiff muscles when their hot muscles cool too fast. In order to avoid this, gradually work to cool your horse down. The best way to do this is to keep the horse moving, even if it’s at a leisurely walk.
How to Prevent Your Horse from Overheating
Give Your Horse Breaks Throughout Your Work Out.
One way you can avoid having your horse overheat is to give them breaks throughout your ride, especially if you notice that their breathing has become heavier. Not only will this give your horse a chance to catch their breath, but it will also give them the opportunity to relax. Having a relaxed horse will usually make for a better rider.
Do Not Work Your Horse on Hot Days.
You can keep from causing your horse to overheat by simply avoiding a workout on hot days. In Oklahoma, there can be days in the Summer when the heat index reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit. (48.9 Celcius) On these days, I always go to check on my horse to make sure that he isn’t too hot. I avoid riding all together because the heat is just too unbearable.
If your stable offers an air-conditioned indoor arena, then by all means, take advantage of that luxury. But if not, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Clip Your Horse’s Coat in the Winter.
If you plan on continuing strenuous training throughout the colder months, you may consider clipping your horse’s coat. This will allow your horse to stay cool even during those hard workouts. However, if you’re clipping your horse for the winter, you’ll want to make sure you blanket them when you aren’t working them because they won’t have enough fur to protect them from the cold.
Condition Your Horse.
Conditioning your horse will help them to work hard for longer periods of time without becoming overheated. This is a gradual process where you tack on a bit more work or a bit more distance to every ride.
If you are an endurance rider or you enjoy trail rides, cross country, or foxhunting, its important to know that your horse won’t breakdown in the middle of nowhere. You can avoid this by properly conditioning them for the type of riding or the distance of riding you plan on doing.
Ensure Your Horse Has Proper Shelter From the Sun.
If your horse lives out in the pasture 24/7, you’ll want to make sure that they have adequate shelter from the heat. This should be either an airy run-in that has good ventilation or a patch of trees that offers shade and a breeze.
Manage Your Horse’s Weight.
Managing your horse’s weight will also decrease the possibility of your horse becoming too hot. The more weight that a horse has on it, the easier it will be for it to become overheated. That being said, if your horse tends to be draftier than others, you’ll probably want to check them more often on hot days.
Avoid Travelling in Poorly Ventilated Trailers.
We’ve all heard the sad stories of a pet left in a car on a hot day; well, a poorly ventilated trailer has the same effect on your horse that the car has on the pet. A horse trailer can become an oven on a hot day. The heat plus the stress of traveling can take a toll on your horse, and this is where they can suffer from dehydration and colic. Before purchasing a horse trailer, make sure that it has good ventilation.
Ensure That Your Horse Has Access to Plenty of Water.
The most important tip to preventing your horse from overheating is to make sure they have access to plenty of water. If you’re trailering your horse on a hot day, stop often to offer them water. If your horse lives in a field with other horses, make sure the water tub is filled. If your horse is stalled, check their water bucket frequently to make sure they have water.
Once a horse is dehydrated, it becomes very easy for them to overheat because their body won’t be able to produce sweat, which keeps the horse cool.
Horses have many of the same needs that we do, and just like us, they can become too hot. By following the tips above, you can avoid a bad situation altogether. If you’ve done everything you can to cool down your horse but they’re still exhibiting signs of being overheated, then it’s time to call the veterinarian. A trained professional will be able to give more insight into the problem and test the horse for any underlying issues.
Like I mentioned above, one important aspect of avoiding overheating your horse is traveling with a well-ventilated trailer. We put together an entire guide about traveling with your horse that you can find by clicking here.