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Dobbins Special Needs

Hot Weather warnings

In our last article we discussed situations unique to summer, and what a summer we have had.  In that article we discussed external parasites.  This week we will discuss the horse’s environment and how we can help make it more comfortable for them.

The simplest heat index is formulated by adding humidity and the temperature.   Even without knowing the humidity, we have a pretty good idea the heat index is high by the time we walk to the barn!   We have a little advantage over the horse by being able to reduce our outer cover by layers, although this does have its limits!  The horse is pretty well stuck with its summer hair coat.  Many of our horses, however, do not have many physical demands and are able to stand under a shade tree most of the day.  If we provide them water, pasture, insect protection, and mineral (combined with salt), they are pretty well set for hot weather.

If the horse has a job or for some other reason is confined to a stall, our input is even more important!   The horse cools primarily by sweating.   Increased respiration uses the lungs to interchange warm body air with the somewhat cooler outside air.  This method of cooling is not really efficient, as the air taken in is diluted with warmer air from the lungs.  The air changes more often when Dobbin breathes faster.

The most efficient method of cooling is evaporation.  Sweating brings moisture to the skin’s surface through sweat glands.  Air movement will carry some of this moisture away and lower the temperature of the skin.  As the sweat evaporates, the skin will also feel cooler.  The greater the air movement, the cooler the horse feels.

If the horse is confined to a stall, there may be little or no air movement.  If the stall walls are high, or if there are no large doors in the east and west ends of the barn to allow air movement, these stalls may be stifling.  If the horse is confined, provide minerals, food, water, and air flow.   The air flow can be generated by large fans for moving the air within the barn, or smaller fans  for moving air within each stall.  The more open the top of the stall, the greater the opportunity for heat dispersal.   Moisture added to the air will make it feel even cooler, but management of the bedding will be more difficult.

After the horse is worked, a bath will both clean the sweat from the hair and cool the body.  Bathing will remove sweat accumulation thus reducing one small layer of insulation and leave the sweat glands open for easier sweating!  After a couple of these, Dobbin will start bringing the hose to you!                                                                  

Feeding hay a few minutes before offering grain will encourage filling the stomach with hay first.  This will dilute the grain and reduce the chances of impaction.  Dehydration from profuse sweating or running out of water can dry the bowel and slow movement.  When the movement is slowed enough gas can start accumulating, leading to discomfort and colic.  Feeding in the cooler part of the day, usually early in the morning, will allow the horse to be finished with most of the digestion before the intense heat of the afternoon.  Digestion warms the body, adding a degree or two to the environmental temperature.

Grain feeding is often avoided in the summer because of this "heat of digestion."  Actually, there is a little more heat generated immediately after ingestion of grain than hay.  This is due to the greater density of the grain as opposed to the hay.  

However, in the long run the heat generated by hay will be greater.  But due to the high digestibility of grain, grain digestion takes place much faster.  Digestion of hay is slower and will take much longer; heat is produced during the entire process.  If all the heat generated were added together, the heat from the digestion of grain will be much less than that from hay.  Obviously the hay is necessary for normal bowel activity, but grain should not be avoided if the horse actually needs it to maintain body condition.
I have heard there are horses that actually need the grain,
but do not see many in my practice!

Adding salt to the grain at the rate of a tablespoon per feeding will stimulate more water intake.  Using “lite” salt may have some advantages due to the higher potassium levels.  

Awareness of our horses warm weather needs will make the summer pass safely.  With more comfort in the summer, the horse will be in better shape for the long fall rides we have planned.

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