Summer can be a great time for riding, with longer days and more time to explore a variety of trails, work on new skills, or prepare for upcoming shows and competitions. Riding in hot weather risks illness and injury, however, so it is important to practice safe riding to keep cool when the temperatures rise.
Because of their thick body core, powerful muscles, and overall proportions, horses feel heat much faster than humans. This makes them susceptible to a wide range of health hazards in hot weather, including dehydration, muscle spasms, heat stress, heat stroke, colic, and kidney failure. Furthermore, when an overheated horse starts to have physical difficulty during a ride, the risks of stumbling and falling are much higher, which can lead to devastating leg and knee injuries. By taking note of hot weather and taking proper precautions for a cool ride, you can still enjoy warm weather riding and keep your horse safe and comfortable.
Some days may just be too hot to ride at all. As a general rule, add the current temperature (or the expected high temperature that day for a long-duration ride), plus the local humidity. If the total is 140-150 or higher, it is typically too hot for extensive riding. Of course, every horse has different tolerances for heat, and animals in better condition that are acclimated to working in heat may be just fine on warmer days, while older animals that may already have respiratory problems cannot work out in the same elevated temperatures. The overall workout intensity and the duration of the ride, as well as the trail conditions for cooling, such as water, shade, and breezes, all impact whether or not it is too hot to ride. If you have any doubt about whether the day is too warm, it is best to enjoy a cooler, easier workout and save longer, more intensive rides for cooler days.
If you do want to ride in hot weather and your horse is in good physical condition for hotter rides, certain steps can keep both you and your mount more comfortable during the exercise.
Using multiple cooling techniques during a ride can make the experience more pleasant for both you and your horse, so you can both enjoy hot weather rides while minimizing risks.
After riding on a hot day, remove your horse’s tack as soon as possible, and walk the animal in the shade, preferably with a breeze, to help it cool down slowly and avoid any temperature shock. Offer plenty of fresh, cool water to drink, and hose your horse down or pour water over its flanks and scrape the excess water off. This will remove heat from its skin and coat, helping cool the horse quickly but safely.
Hot weather riding doesn’t have to be dangerous, but you must take proper precautions to keep yourself and your horse safe in extreme heat. By preparing for the ride and staying alert to the heat, you can easily plan a summer ride safely.