Summer Safety-- Beating the Heat
1. What's your horse's normal body temperature?
2. What are the signs of a) dehydration and b) heat-related distress in a horse?
3. What's the most efficient way to cool a horse?
4. Does humidity contribute to heat distress?
5. True or False-- giving a hot horse cold water is bad.
6. True or False-- giving a hot horse too much water is bad.
1. 98 - 101 F (36.6 - 38.3 Celsius). 102-104 means heated, but fairly normal for working in summer. 105 starts to get dangerous. Above that, the horse is in trouble. Take a horse's temperature rectally, pressing the end of the thermometer against the inner wall of the rectum. Don't leave it in the middle. Rectal temperature is generally a degree or two lower than actual core temperature.
2. A) Deyhdration: Dry gums, mouth and inner nostrils that appear very pale or brick red instead of normal pink. Or, if you press hard on the gum, it remains white for too long-- the blood doesn't return quickly. If you pinch the horse's skin, it stays upright for a few seconds rather than snapping back. Increased heart rate.
B) Heat Distress: Listlessness, lack of appetite, heavy sweating. In extreme cases, rapid "panting" of the nostrils even at rest. In some cases, distress calls/whinnies.
3. Cold water given to drink and hosed on. Cold water should especially be put the large back and rump muscles, because these large muscles retain the most heat. Water should then be scraped off. Leaving it on only boils the horse in the rapidly-heated water. If you scrape it off, the air dries the remaining moisture quickly, taking heat with it. Cold water on hot muscles will NOT cause "tying up" or cramps.
4. Yes. The reason: in humid weather, less sweat can evaporate from a horse, because of all the moisture already in the air. When sweat doesn't evaporate as efficiently, a horse doesn't cool down as efficiently.
5 & 6. False. This popular myth can be traced back to "Black Beauty," where the horse's groom gives him lots of icy water to drink after strenuous exercise, and then Beauty falls ill. In reality, cold water given to a hot horse will NOT cause colic or cramps. You can ask any endurance rider. Give your horse all the water he can drink!! If a horse (or a human athlete) is appearing to have stomach troubles after exercising and then drinking, there's an underlying problem that has nothing to do with the water. It's that over-exertion causes the digestive system to start to shut down, and the over-used muscles to seize up. This is why vets check horses for gut sounds and anal tone at endurance events-- to check if the horse is being pushed too hard. Lack of gut activity can make drinking water slightly more uncomfortable, but does no damage. In fact, it's far, far better to drink more water just then, to help revive the weakened body.
Heat Safety Tips:
- Encourage your horse to drink more often by keeping his water coolish, clean and easily accessible. Now is not the time to be lazy about scrubbing and filling tanks.
- Make sure your horse has shade!
- Horses with pink skin can and DO sunburn. Put human sunscreen on them, and/or a sun shade mask. Annie requires suns screen every day and still burns.
- NEVER EVER leave a horse parked in a trailer in the sun. Would you leave your child inside a hot, parked car in summer?!
- Make sure you have a SALT BLOCK. Horses lose lots of salt via their sweat, especially in summer, and must make up the deficiency by licking salt. In the wild, horses literally eat dirt/minerals to get at the salt inside. Without adequate salt, a horse can eventually suffer major internal damage or death.
- Don't leave your helmet in direct sunlight, either outside or through a window. The plastic will actually start to buckle. Be careful not to place a sun-heated bit in a horse's mouth.
- Don't be an idiot. If the temperature is over 90 degrees, limit the exercise you ask your horse to do.
Great reference articles here, here, here and here (skip to Laura-the-Administrator's comment on this last one). All of my information here is backed up by studies done during the equestrian Olympics in Georgia in 1996.
Now on to....
Constructive Criticism: There's Not Enough!
Speaking of taking heat, let's talk criticism. You've heard the story of the Emperor's Clothes, right? The arrogant, naked emperor walked around in his "magical clothes" (birthday suit) until someone was brave enough to tell that asshole to put on some real underwear.
But what if the emperor sort of knew he was naked the whole time, and wanted someone to hand him a pair of shorts, but people kept insisting he was wonderfully dressed? That's how I've been feeling about my animal art lately. I've known for some time that my stuff wasn't right, and only this morning did someone finally tell me how wrong and why it was wrong. It wasn't mean-spirited in the least (in fact I asked for it), and I felt this huge sense of relief that finally someone had handed me a metaphorical pair of shorts. Now I have some ideas about where I'm really at and how to get better. I have tools instead of platitudes.
We've all heard about how we should accept criticism. But don't forget to give criticism. Nicely, constructively, specifically, tell your friend that her riding is suffering because of X or Y. DO explain to a fellow boarder why W or Z is a bad idea. While it's always a little bit embarrassing and awful for the learner, truly nothing is more valuable than to be corrected by someone more knowledgeable.
Yeah, of course I recommend caution, because you don't know everything, and not everyone takes criticism well, and this could just be the one time someone didn't do it right, etc etc etc. But let's make a pact. I'm also going to tell every horse person I know to stop me if they see me doing something wrong, and tell me why it's wrong. Will you do it too? And if you see a lady in a dorky black bubble helmet on a big slow palomino mare, will you please shout out any timely advice?
At worst, we'll get some awful advice that we can just politely thank the person for, and move on. At best, we could get some really really great advice that will improve our happiness, safety and skill.