This year was known as the winter that wasn’t in Savannah, which was nice in some ways, but as we swat giant black marsh mosquitoes and deal with biting black flies in March, many of us wonder, “what will the summer be like for us and our horses in Savannah?”
Last summer was so hot that it was rare to have a day where the daytime temperatures stayed below 90 even by 10 in the morning.
Many of the carriage tour employees downtown said that the temperatures inside the old warehouse building style barns rose to 110 degrees even with the industrial size fans on full whirl.
In Savannah we deal with moist heat, which means that you cannot sweat enough to cool off and the sweat just sits on your body making you hotter, so tip number one for horse owners, is to purchase sweat wicking clothing for yourself.
Sweat wicking clothing is generally made of special woven polyester that lets the moisture on your skin be soaked up by an under layer and moved to the upper layer to dry out.
So far, we have not found anything like this for horses, though fly scrims or woven mesh fly sheets may help provide some relief. If you want to test them, put them on your horse on a day you plan to be at the barn for several hours and watch them, checking under the sheet to make sure they are not sweating profusely or that the sheets are holding in heat, rather than dissipating it. Also keep in mind, that a dirty sheet may trap more heat than a clean one.
If you have a large acreage of property, consider putting in a giant puddle. If you can find someone with a backhoe to dig you a 15 feet long, two feet deep, sloping hole, you can keep it partially filled with water. If you are worried about mosquitoes, you can scoop some mosquito fish out of a nearby ditch to help consume mosquito larvae.
Horses love to splash and play in shallow water and some will even roll in it. It can get messy, but if you are willing to haul in some sand to keep the mud down, this tactic can really provide some relief from the heat for your horses.
Here are five easy tips to keep your horse cooler:
1. Fresh cool water located in the shade – running water is better than water that sits. If you can leave a sprayer on the end of a water hose and leave it on slow drip, the spray will add air to the water and keep it fresh and cool.
2. Fans in the stalls or tall leafy trees in the pasture for shade – ceiling fans work as well as wall fans, just make sure your horse cannot chew or kick at electric wires and that the fans are kept cleaned of dust and spider webs and the blades are not exposed. Plastic or wood blades are safer than metal. If you leave your fans on at night or in the day when no one is around, make sure you have a surge protector that will shut off if the fan sparks, or a smoke alarm nearby that is loud enough to warn you if a fire breaks out.
3. Provide free choice salt and electrolytes. While some people prefer to put electrolyte powder in their horse’s feed, you can also add it to a spare water bucket in the stall encouraging more drinking. Gatorade contains sugar, which horses do not need, but in a pinch they can drink it and other human sport powders, but better to get the powder that is specifically formulated for horses.
4. Hose your horse off BEFORE riding them as well as after. The cooling water will help the horse with evaporating sweat while being ridden. Make sure you scrape off excess water as it can actually trap in heat once the horse’s body heats up. The best way to remove excess water from a horse’s legs is with a dry sponge. You can make the experience even more pleasant by adding some liniment to the sponge to provide a fresh, minty, cooling effect.
5. Try to ride before 10 AM and after 5 PM when the sun is at more of an angle. Don’t forget to factor in humidity and your horse’s condition. Horses that are out of condition are more at risk of muscle tremors and overexertion heat stress. A fat horse tends to hold in more body heat than a thin horse and in general a smaller horse can handle the heat better than a larger horse, though each horse is different.
As for keeping yourself cool; stay hydrated, wear a helmet with cooling air vents, wear sweat wicking clothes which can actually keep you cooler than wearing a tank top.
Sporting goods stores offer a number of cooling devices from scarves you dip in water and wear around your neck or head to evaporate heat away from your body, to shoes made with mesh vents that will still protect your feet better than sandals or flip flops, which aren’t really safe to wear around horses anyway.
Misting systems for the barn may also be helpful as well as maintaining airflow through the building. You can put a block of ice or a bag of ice in a flat pan behind the fan to help blow cooler air on your horses.
Turn out can take place at night rather than the day. You can also help your horse by keeping their coats clipped short. A spray mist bottle filled with alcohol, mouth wash or watered down liniment can help keep horses cool while out on the road or trail. Just be careful to water them down and not spray it directly into eyes. Alcohol can also be drying on the coat and burns when it gets on fly bites, so be cautious.
With a little forethought, you may not be able to beat the heat, but you can certainly make it more bearable for both you and your equine friends.
If you are not sure if it is too hot to ride or not, take a hint. If you are sweating and breathing harder than normal, chances are your horse feels the heat worse than you. Forget about figuring out formulas for heat, wind speed, and dew point, just give your horse a break and spend more time on the ground enjoying his or her company and you’ll both be happier.