Heat Management in Horses While On the Road

August 7th, 2014 1:28 PM | No Comments
Cold hosing key areas like the neck, back, and forearms can help bring down a horse's body temperature.  Image courtesy of MyHorse.com.

Cold hosing key areas like the neck, back legs, and forearms can help bring down a horse’s body temperature. Image courtesy of MyHorse.com.

For most places, August is the hottest month of the year and coincidentally when people are travelling to major shows all over the country such as the Ford Youth World, NSBA World Championships, the Adequan Select World, and the Reichert Celebration.  The heat can take a toll not just on people, but also the horses both during and after the long trailer rides to get to their destinations.  Pleasurehorse.com sat down with Dr. Jennifer Baker of Equine Associates, LLC., based in Hawkinsville, Georgia, to get some tips for handling excessive heat while trailering and showing.

What are some basic tips for keeping horses cool while on the road?  Many don’t realize how extremely hot trailers can quickly get, even with adequate ventilation.

One of the biggest tips is to avoid hauling in the heat of the day, if at all possible.  Travel at night whenever you can, especially going through major cities where traffic jams tend to be a problem.  Being stuck in traffic only adds to the heat in the trailer since air flow is restricted.  When stopping for breaks, make sure to park in the shade, and offer cool or cold, fresh water every 3-4 hours (a good rule of thumb is whenever you have to stop for fuel or use the restroom).  A popular myth is that cold water causes founder, but that is just an old wives’ tale with no scientific integrity.  If possible, hose them off with cool water throughout the day, especially along the neck, along the insides of the forearms, and inside of the back legs where the larger veins are located in order to cool the blood more effectively.  If you can let your horse graze occasionally on good quality, green grass, that will also help keep them hydrated since it’s about 90% water.

Make sure your trailer is adequately ventilated to enhance air circulation.  Image courtesy of America's Horse Daily.

Make sure your trailer is adequately ventilated to enhance air circulation. Image courtesy of America’s Horse Daily.

One of the first things people think about in a heat wave is giving electrolytes in order to encourage drinking.  What is your stance on this?

Electrolytes are fine to offer, however, ALWAYS offer plain water as well since some animals prefer it over electrolytes.  If they are only offered electrolyte water, they may drink less.  They usually drink what their body is deficient in.

If a horse is showing signs of overheating, what are the first things they should do to bring their temperature down?  Should they immediately call the vet as well?

Heat Exhaustion in horses can be very subtle but is a life threatening situation, particularly in the Southeast with the excessive humidity we experience.  Some symptoms include, but not limited to:

  • Temperature of 106 or higher
  • Elevated pulse/heart rate (over 60)
  • Rapid respiratory rate (over 60)
  • Fatigure
  • Depression (Droopy Attitude)
  • Dehydration (Drier and pinker than normal oral mucous membranes, sweat becomes thick and sticky)

First aid for heat exhaustion includes:

  • Immediately take the horse to a cool area.  A stall isn’t necessarily the coolest area depending on the air flow and other factors. 
  • Hose the horse off with cool water as previously mentioned.
  • Place fans around the horse.
  • Take the horse’s temperature for a baseline and to monitor the response to your treatment.
  • Contact you vet immediately as this is an emergency situation.
  • DO NOT administer any medication unless your vet advises it. The administration of some medications in the face of dehydration can cause kidney disease, so use extreme caution.

What physically happens to a horse that is overheating, and when can it become life-threatening?

Horses become overheated because the muscles generate an enormous amount of heat particularly with exercise.  As the heat builds up, either from exercise or from standing in an enclosed trailer, the body can’t dissipate this build-up of heat when the ambient temperature is high, and it worsens when the humidity is up.  Long hair coats, poor condition, anhidrosis (non-sweating syndrome) and obesity and/or heavy muscling can also contribute to poor heat dissipation.  A temperature of 106 is classified as heat exhaustion.  If the horse shows neurological symptoms and a temperature of 106, Heat Stroke has occurred.  Neurological symptoms can include weakness, any abnormal mental status, staggering, falling, seizures, and even death. 

How dangerous is anhidrosis (non-sweating syndrome), and how common is it in horses?

Anhidrosis or non-sweating is a very common syndrome; up to 10% of horses are unable to sweat.  The actual cause of this disease is uncertain, but is speculated to be associated with an exhaustion of the sweat glands.  There is no treatment for this disease.  However, aggressive management is extremely important!  For obvious reasons these animals can’t be left outside in the heat and can’t be ridden during the hotter months of the year.  Sometimes they start sweating, but usually it is a permanent problem.

If a person is on the road and away from home, what is the best way to find a local vet in case of emergency?

Location of an equine veterinarian is oftentimes a huge challenge when you are away from home.  There is an 800 number to store in your phone in the event of an emergency.  It is 800-GET-A-DVM.


Image courtesy of Equine Associates.

Dr. Jennifer Baker graduated in 1986 from Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.  After completing several equine internships and residencies, she founded Equine Associates located in Hawkinsville, Georgia, in 1991 with her husband and fellow equine veterinarian, Dr. William Baker, a graduate of the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine.  Her specialties include equine ophthalmology, emergency medicine, anesthesiology, and neonatology.  For more information on their practice, please visit EquineAssociatesLLC.com.



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