How to Cool Out a Hot Horse
By Tammy Mercer
The last ten to fifteen minutes of every ride should consist of walking on a long or loose rein to allow the horse to relax, stretch his muscles, and, if he is winded from the exercise, catch his breath. This may be all the cool-down the average horse requires in order to physically recover from moderate exercise on a cool to warmish day. But intense workouts can strain muscles, ligaments, and tendons, and when coupled with soaring summer temperatures can cause your horse’s body temperature to skyrocket. An appropriate cool-down in these cases addresses the recovery of the horse’s muscles and other soft tissue structures that have just been in use, as well as bringing his heart rate, breathing rate, and body temperature safely down to their normal statistics.
Sponging or hosing your horse with cool water is one of the fastest ways to bring his body temperature down. Plus, any sweaty patches will be washed away, leaving him feeling refreshed and much more comfortable. Photo: Daniel Johnson/Flickr
Every cool-down plan will vary slightly according to the individual horse and the type, intensity, and duration of exercise.
“You have to take into consideration the length of the ride,” says Mercer, pointing out that a horse that has just completed a 100 mile ride will need a different cool-down than a hunter/jumper horse that has just done about six minutes of work going around a course. “It’s also about how fit the horse is to begin with. It’s just like us. Horses’ muscles shouldn’t need as much stretching out or as long a cool-down once they’re more fit.”
Upon completing a demanding workout (e.g. a 50 mile ride), begin the cool-down by sponging or hosing your horse down with cool water to lower his body temperature. “Use cool water, not freezing cold,” says Mercer. “If you use really cold water, it can elevate their heart rate even higher. Another thing that people can do as well is to put wet sponges on the horse’s head to cool him down.”
Allowing your horse access to fresh drinking water will also help cool him down. “Veterinarians will tell you it’s perfectly alright for horses to drink when they’re hot, but a lot of people have it in their head that can cause colic or tying-up,” Mercer explains.
“When it’s really hot – we’re talking July or August heat – I’ll use straight rubbing alcohol. The evaporation of the alcohol off the skin cools the horse quicker. I’ll spray under his chest and neck and then wash it down right away with cool water, then spray again and wash it down with water again. The thing with alcohol is you don’t want to get it anywhere near their face and you don’t want it on any cuts because it’s going to hurt like heck.”
It is important to keep your horse moving after a strenuous workout so that his muscles don’t seize up. You can break up walking in hand at an easy pace with grazing intervals and offers of drinking water. Photo: Daniel Johnson/Flickr
It’s also really important that you keep your horse moving. “The length of time you should walk your horse out depends,” says Mercer. “If you’ve done a 50-mile ride, I’d say you’d be looking at walking for at least an hour. You want to achieve the horse’s resting heart rate. This again goes back to the fitness of the horse. Some horses might be fine in half an hour, but to be safe I would say at least an hour.”
“But,” she adds, “that doesn’t mean vigorous walking. It’s just about keeping them moving so their muscles don’t seize up.” You can alternate walking with short intervals of grazing, allowing the horse to drink as often as he pleases.
You can care for the ligaments and tendons in your horse’s lower legs by icing, cold hosing, wrapping, or poulticing his legs. “These extras come down to preference and the fitness of the horse,” says Mercer. “If your horse gets windpuffs after a ride, you probably need to spend more time walking and you should definitely be wrapping or icing his legs. You know your horse best.”
Tammy Mercer is the current President of the British Columbia Competitive Trail Riding Association (BCCTRA). She has been competing in the sport of competitive trail since 2004, and was a member of the BC Team that competed in the National Championships in 2008.
This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue of Canadian Horse Journal.