Signs of Over­heat­ing

Trail Rider - - SEASONAL GUIDE - — Jessica Jahiel, PhD ( ; www.jes­si­ca­, an in­ter­na­tion­ally-rec­og­nized clin­i­cian and lec­turer, and award-win­ning au­thor of books, ar­ti­cles, and col­umns about horses, rid­ing, teach­ing, and train­ing.

On the trail, your horse’s com­fort, health, and safety de­pend largely on your man­age­ment. Is there shade on the trail you plan to take? Are there hills? Go­ing up­hill uses more of your horse’s energy and makes him hot­ter than flat trails do. Plan wa­ter stops. Know where the streams are, or ar­range to wa­ter your horse at in­ter­vals along the way. Stop pe­ri­od­i­cally, dis­mount, and un­sad­dle him.

On hot sum­mer rides, your horse is at risk for over­heat­ing de­spite your mea­sures to keep him cool. Here are signs to watch for to de­ter­mine whether your horse is over­heated. If you de­tect any one of these signs, take im­me­di­ate steps to cool him down, and call your vet­eri­nar­ian. (For cool-down mea­sures, see below.)

Stum­bling. Take ac­tion if your horse ap­pears fa­tigued, stum­bling along slowly in­stead of strid­ing out with his typ­i­cal energy.

Lack of alert­ness. Your over­heated horse will have dull eyes and will lack his usual alert­ness. He may hang his head, and his ears may droop.

Change of mood. Your over­heated horse may seem to be in a bad mood, putting back his ears at any re­quest from you.

El­e­vated body tem­per­a­ture. Check your horse’s tem­per­a­ture along the ride and post-ride. Is it higher than nor­mal? If it’s 102 de­grees Fahren­heit or higher, cool him down and call a vet­eri­nar­ian.

El­e­vated pulse and res­pi­ra­tion. Don’t worry if your horse breathes a lit­tle faster for a minute or two af­ter ex­tra ex­er­tion or if his pulse is a lit­tle quick. But if his el­e­vated res­pi­ra­tion and pulse rate last longer than a cou­ple of min­utes, take im­me­di­ate steps to cool him.

De­hy­dra­tion. Test for de­hy­dra­tion with a skin pinch: Pinch some skin on your horse’s neck so that it forms a tiny tent, then let go, and count the sec­onds. If the skin snaps right back into place, good — he’s hy­drated. If it takes more than two sec­onds (count them) for his skin to flat­ten, he’s de­hy­drated. If it takes longer, he’s even more de­hy­drated.

Slow cap­il­lary re­fill time. To check your horse’s cap­il­lary re­fill time, push your thumb against his gum, which should be pink, then lift your thumb and count the sec­onds while you watch the pink color re­turn to the white area. He’s in dis­tress if it takes more than three sec­onds for the pink color to re­turn, or if his gums are gray in­stead of pink.

Lack of sweat. If your hot horse isn’t sweat­ing, he’s suf­fer­ing from an­hidro­sis (the in­abil­ity to sweat when nec­es­sary), a se­ri­ous con­di­tion.

Be­fore you leave the barn, groom your horse thor­oughly, so that the prod­ucts you use will pro­vide bet­ter cov­er­age. Then bring on your arse­nal. For op­ti­mal ef­fec­tive­ness, fol­low these tips.

Choose your weapons. Choose pest­con­trol prod­ucts ac­cord­ing to your in­di­vid­ual needs. If your horse needs leg pro­tec­tion, or al­ready has some bites or other wounds, a thicker gel prod­uct may be more ef­fec­tive than a thin­ner spray-on. If you’re head­ing out for a full day’s ride, you’ll get more long-last­ing pro­tec­tion from an oil-based prod­uct than from a wa­ter-based one. On long rides, con­sider a wa­ter- and sweat-re­sis­tant re­pel­lent.

Tack up first. Ap­ply the prod­uct af­ter tack­ing up, so that you won’t waste prod­uct or put your horse’s tack on top of chem­i­cals. The heat, pres­sure, and fric­tion that build up un­der tack could com­bine with those chem­i­cals to cause skin ir­ri­ta­tion.

Ap­ply with care. Read the man­u­fac­turer’s di­rec­tions about how best to ap­ply the prod­uct, not only whether to use it full-strength or di­luted, but how much of it to use, and ex­actly where on your horse’s body to use it. On long rides, carry a roll-on or wipe-on prod­uct and re-ap­ply as needed. Avoid ap­ply­ing chem­i­cal re­pel­lent over your horse’s eyes, where it could run down and ir­ri­tate his eyes’ sen­si­tive tis­sues.

Get phys­i­cal. Fly masks, bon­nets, sheets, and leg wraps can help keep bit­ing in­sects away from your horse. Some fly masks come with ear cov­ers and nose shields that pro­vide near full-face cov­er­age. Con­sider get­ting a fly cape — es­sen­tially, a mesh ver­sion of a quar­ter sheet — de­signed to pro­tect your horse’s sides and rump while he’s un­der sad­dle. If you ride in a par­tic­u­larly bug-prone area, con­sider in­vest­ing in the Cru­sader Bug Ar­mor, full-body in­sect bar­rier from Cashel Com­pany. This two-piece “mesh ar­mor” ties to your bri­dle and sad­dle, pro­vid­ing cov­er­age in front of and be­hind the sad­dle, and ef­fec­tively screen­ing your horse from just be­hind his ears to his hocks.

Hang shoo flies. Hang horse­hair shoo flies — tas­sels made from horse­hair or nar­row leather strings — from your horse’s bri­dle, breast­col­lar, cinch, sad­dle, and stir­rups.

Go nat­u­ral. Your horse’s own mane and tail are ef­fec­tive fly whisks, so leave them loose. The hair on his ears, in­side and out­side, helps pro­tect him from in­sects, so if you’re think­ing of “tidy­ing his ears” with the clip­pers, don’t. If his ear hair is al­ready clipped, ap­ply a fly bon­net or fly mask with ears. Or, care­fully rub in­sect-re­pel­lent lo­tion, gel, or cream on (and in) his ears.

Your horse isn’t the only one in need of pro­tec­tion from bit­ing in­sects; you also need to keep them away. You don’t want to be dis­tracted and un­com­fort­able on rides, and you’re also sus­cep­ti­ble to in­sect-borne dis­eases, such as Lyme dis­ease and West Nile virus. Here are some bugs-off tips for you.

Dress for heat. Wear light-col­ored, long sleeved-shirts, long pants tucked into your boots, and a hat with a wide brim. Con­sider cloth­ing with built-in pest re­pel­lent.

Cover up. Cover ex­posed skin sur­faces with your fa­vorite in­sect re­pel­lent, and carry some with you to re-ap­ply as needed.

Ward off mos­qui­toes. If mos­qui­toes are a prob­lem, use an EPA-reg­is­tered re­pel­lent that con­tains DEET, and ride at mid­day rather than at dawn or dusk, when mos­qui­toes are most ac­tive.

Check for ticks. Check your­self for ticks, es­pe­cially your hair­line and just be­hind your ears.

Keep bees at bay. Avoid wear­ing things that at­tract bees, such as bright-col­ored cloth­ing and cologne. Wear earth tones, which bees don’t find ap­peal­ing. Avoid flower- and cit­rus-scented sham­poo, con­di­tioner, and even re­pel­lents when go­ing on late-sum­mer trail rides.

Elec­trolytes are body salts that break down into pos­i­tive or nega­tive ions when they dis­solve. Those ions let cells “fire up” to do their job. Dif­fer­ent salts are nec­es­sary for dif­fer­ent cells, but they all work to­gether in a pre­cise bal­ance that con­trols nearly every func­tion of the body — es­pe­cially nerves and mus­cles. They also help sig­nal to a horse that he’s thirsty.

Elec­trolytes are pri­mar­ily lost through sweat when horses over­heat, over­work, or over­stress. Sweat is ac­tu­ally a form of nat­u­ral air con­di­tion­ing that low­ers body tem­per­a­ture by evap­o­rat­ing on the skin. Blood trans­fers heat from the body core up closer to the skin, which is then cooled by that evap­o­rat­ing sweat.

In a frustrating cy­cle, the hot­ter your horse gets, the more blood is needed to lower his body tem­per­a­ture. But some of the liq­uid needed for that cool­ing sweat is pulled from — the blood. This low­ers blood vol­ume. So, as the de­mand for blood vol­ume in­creases, the amount of fluid avail­able for that blood de­creases, as more and more wa­ter is sweated away.

That sort of loss main­tained over many hours with­out elec­trolyte sup­port and a great deal of wa­ter pro­duces de­hy­dra­tion and elec­trolyte im­bal­ance. Depending on how se­vere this gets, the re­sult can be ex­treme fa­tigue; mus­cle cramps; colic; heart prob­lems; in­ter­fer­ence with com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween brain, nerves, and mus­cles; and even­tual col­lapse.

If you de­cide to give your horse elec­trolytes, here are a few tips. Read the la­bel. The best com­mer­cial prepa­ra­tions con­tain sodium, chlo­ride, potas­sium, cal­cium, phos­pho­rus, and mag­ne­sium. Some add other trace min­er­als and nu­tri­tional sup­ple­ments. Oth­ers add sugar, fla­vors, and var­i­ous “fillers,” which might make the sup­ple­ment more palat­able to your horse. How­ever, too much sugar (any­thing that ends in “ose”) ac­tu­ally in­ter­feres with elec­trolyte as­sim­i­la­tion. Do not give elec­trolytes con­tain­ing bi­car­bon­ate, which is for­mu­lated for horses with di­ar­rhea. Time it right. Rel­a­tively low levels of elec­trolytes should be ad­min­is­tered the night be­fore (es­sen­tially to get your horse to tank up on wa­ter), then an hour or so be­fore you start to trailer-load or ride. If the stress will last all day, plan on giv­ing elec­trolytes every three to four hours, with more at the end and a bit more for a day or two af­ter. Con­sider the for­mu­la­tion. Elec­trolyte pow­ders can be added to feed and/or wa­ter. Drink­ing just elec­trolyte-laced wa­ter can ac­tu­ally lead to more de­hy­dra­tion, so al­ways pro­vide am­ple fresh wa­ter, as well. Pastes are squeezed di­rectly onto the back of the tongue. For horses with nim­ble up­per lips that can sep­a­rate pow­ders from their din­ner, you can buy gels that will stick to grain.



Fly masks, bon­nets, sheets, and leg wraps can help keep bit­ing in­sects away from your horse. Left to right: SmartPak Deluxe Fly Boots; SmartPak Clas­sic Fly Mask; SmartPak Deluxe Fly Sheet.


On the trail, plan wa­ter stops. Know where the streams are, or ar­range to wa­ter your horse at in­ter­vals along the way.


Your horse loses elec­trolytes (body salts) through sweat.

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