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Heat wave can be hard on horses

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A little extra work and planning can make the heat more bearable in the barns and during training.

By Spencer Jenkins

When cutting grass, working in the yard or just milling around outside when a heat wave hits, most people can just step inside to cool off in the air conditioning. But what about Shelby's equine friends? There are not a lot of barns with AC pumping in.

In preparation for the heat wave settling on Shelby County this week, horse trainers and owners can take certain precautions for extra care of their horses during the dog days of summer.

Trainer and horse owner at RHC Riding Academy, Erin Reid said all of her horses have boxed stalls with their own fan.

“That [a fan] is a must have,” she said. “We take them when we go to shows.”

Trainers also change their schedules so the horses finish working out and training by 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. and their horses won’t be forced to work in the heat.

While jumping in a pool or pond is quick relief for people on a hot day, horses can’t just do a cannonball. But that doesn’t mean a quick shower can’t help.

Reid said trainers and owners rinse horses off and/or sponge where the horses are sweaty.

“They can get heat rashes,” Reid said. “It gets to be where they get little bumps and you’ll notice because you look for them.”

She said mostly trainers and owners really need to know each individual horse and how hard they can be worked.

“Always, always, always factor in the age of the horse and physical ability,” she said. “If your horse is fit and accustomed to it [the heat], you can ask it to perform harder. It really isn’t that different than people with heat.”

And many issues they might have can be similar to heat issues that might plague their riders or trainers. Horses can have lung problems that make it difficult to breathe in excessive heat, like the heaves. The can also “tie up” or become dehydrated. Reid said horses, like people, need to watch their hydration to avoid cramping.

“They must be hydrated,” she said.

Electrolytes can be added to their water or simple Gatorade can be added too. They can also be added into their food, which also encourages the horse to drink more, Reid said.

“They can’t perform if they’re cramping up,” she said. “Stop every two hours while trailoring [to hydrate them].”

But, if dehydration does occur there are solutions.

A vet can give a horse fluids through an IV, or a horse can also be “tubed” where a long tube is sent through their nose and esophagus and into their stomach forcing hydration.

Reid said they also add oil to the water to make sure their food is completely saturated to pass through its lengthy intestines so the horse won’t get constipated.

“Colic is always a major concern and dehydration leads to colic,” she said.

But one tip Reid has to help avoid all the possible pitfalls, just pass on some oatmeal.

“Bran mash” which is table brand feed with hot water added is like oatmeal, she said. Make it “kind of soupy” and feed it to them like that.

“Most horses love it,” she said. “You’re sort of tricking them [to hydrate].”