Hot & Bothered – Hydration & Electrolytes Explained
The weather recently has been absolutely glorious and we have been lapping up the sunshine, especially after the sopping wet winter we had that felt like it would never end! However, when temperatures started to reach the 30ºC mark, we have to admit, we were feeling the need for swimming pools, ice lollies and Pina Coladas; rather than having to actually do anything productive! Poo picking and mucking out in this weather is definitely not the one!
Horses and heat waves don’t always mix very well we’ve found and we’ve all had to alter our routines to account for the extreme heat. Here are our top tips for keeping yourselves and your horses as comfortable and happy as possible:
- If you can, keep your horse inside during the heat of the day and then turn out over night to help them stay cool and also to give them a break from the incessant flies.
- If you don’t have a stable to use, make sure your horses have access to a shelter or shaded area at all times, should they choose to use it – although you may find they choose to metaphorically stick two fingers up at you and just graze under the beating sun!
- Ensure your horse has access to clean, fresh water at all times. Clean stable buckets daily and water troughs as regularly as you can. If you struggle to get your horse to drink enough, you can try putting apples in their water bucket to encourage them to dip their muzzles in. You can also add flavour to the water to make it more appealing to them, or give them free access to a salt lick.
- Wet your horse’s feed. You could also soak their hay.
- Try to ride in the early morning or in the evening once the temperature has begun to cool. Obviously, this may not always be possible; and if you do have to ride in hot temperatures, make sure you adjust the level of work you ask of your horse and allow them lots of breaks. Try and go for a relaxed hack, rather than an intense schooling session. Also, remember to take into account that the ground will be hard.
- Hose your horse off after work to help them bring their temperature down to a comfortable level.
- Try to get as many chores done as early in the day as possible so that you can get into the shade with a cool drink once the temperature starts to rise.
- Keep your head covered with a hat whilst you are out in the sun and take regular water breaks.
Top tip: If you feel you are overheating, stop what you are doing and sip water until you feel better.
Hydrating you horse – why is it important?
It is crucial that your horse has free access to clean, fresh water at all times, as they will need to drink between 20 and 55 litres of water per day. Water is essential for almost every system in the horse’s body to be able to function correctly and efficiently.
One of the most important of these functions is Thermoregulation – this is the way in which the body regulates its own temperature. Similarly to humans, when a horse becomes too hot it will sweat, the moisture evaporating from the skin cools the body and keeps the temperature within a healthy range. However, the water used by the body for sweat is then lost and the horse needs to continue to take in water to replace this. The horse will also lose electrolytes through sweating, but we will come back to those later on.
How will I know if my horse becomes dehydrated?
It is very dangerous for a horse to become dehydrated as it can cause serious health problems. If the weather is very hot, if your horse has worked particularly hard or if they have been unwell with diarrhoea or similar; you may find that they are quieter than normal, they may seem weak or depressed, they may have dry mucous membranes or sunken eye balls. These signs could all point to dehydration. In serious cases, dehydration can cause impaction colic or collapse.
What are elctrolytes and when should I give them to my horse?
In simple terms, electrolytes are crucial mineral salts that dissolve into positive and negative charges within the body. These charges regulate the flow of water in and out of cells and spark nerve impulses. Basically, without electrolytes, our cells wouldn’t function and therefore, the rest of our body wouldn’t either.
When your horse works hard or becomes hot, electrolytes are deposited into sweat glands. Where the electrolytes go, water follows and as the glands become full, they release the water/electrolyte mix onto the skin. Losing too many electrolytes will inhibit cell function and can cause problems with blood pressure, breathing and more.
You cannot ‘load’ electrolytes prior to exercise, so it is important to replace them once they are lost. There are plenty of electrolytes on the market which you can buy as feed supplements. We stock Horse First, Dodson & Horrell, NAF, Bailey’s Aqua Aid and Equine America Apple Lytes to name a few.
It is a good idea to take electrolytes with you to events where you know your horse will be working hard; or have in the feed room for particularly hot days or after strenuous training sessions, to ensure you replace what your horse has lost as soon as you can. If you keep your horse well hydrated they will recover well from exercise, but they will recover much better and quicker if you provide them with electrolytes as well as water. Most horses will not need electrolytes day to day, unless they are being kept very fit for high levels of competition.