Heat Exhaustion in Horses

Summer months can be harsh due to high temperatures, and this can be just as dangerous to horses as it can to humans. Competitive horses are at greater risk, as they are expected to perform at their peak no matter what the weather conditions, and in the jumps racing industry heat exhaustion is the greatest enemy. There is, however, signs to look out for in regard to heat exhaustion, preventative measures and treatments, as if this condition is left untreated it can be fatal.

Any horse, that is asked to exert themselves in extreme heat or humidity, runs the risk of heat exhaustion, and in unsound or unfit horses, the risk is even greater. Heat exhaustion contributes to a number of conditions that put strain on a horse’s cardiovascular system and can lead to the horse collapsing. The loss of intramuscular glycogen, electrolyte loss, heat retention and fluid loss are just a few of changes their bodies will suffer, which in turn can lead to symptoms including loss of appetite, weakness, unwillingness to work, high temperatures, spasmodic jerking, dehydration and even hypovolemic shock. More serious issues can also arise, such as atrial fibrillation, laminitis, colic and diarrhea.

Heat exhaustion can be prevented by following a few simple steps. Ensuring a horse remains hydrated and limiting their exercise will lower the risk of heat exhaustion. Keeping a close watch on a horse’s behavior can also aid horsemen in noticing the subtle changes in their behavior for them to act accordingly. Cooling a horse down with water will also assist in keeping their body temperatures down. If a horse has already begun to show symptoms of heat exhaustion and dehydration, an aggressive approach is needed. Spraying the horse down, or pouring buckets of cool, not cold, water over the body could help them recover. Some horses might not want to drink fluids or eat, which causes the electrolytes which have been lost not to be replenished. Veterinary help should be called in if horses refuse to take in fluids.

Jumps racing horsemen have been campaigning for years to have events moved to the early evening and trying to promote night racing, especially in summer, to prevent their horses from running the risk of heat exhaustion. It is a serious danger that everyone who owns horses should be aware of, and educate themselves in regard to the condition to protect the wellbeing of their horses.