June 21 can't get here soon enough. Even though we've had some pretty warm days here in central Kentucky, I'm counting down these last few days before summer arrives. And while the warm weather and longer days mean I can finally start working on a tan for my wedding in August, they also mean that many senior horse owners—like myself—need to make some special considerations to keep our aging equids comfortable in potentially sizzling temperatures.
Dorado gets lots of baths during the hot summer months to help him stay cool.
Photo: Keith Larson
Dorado, 17, is a fan of the warm weather. I'm not sure if that comes from his early days growing up in Florida, the fact that he's a thin-skinned Thoroughbred (read: he's just a weenie), or some other factor, but he's a much happier horse when the sun is shining and temperatures are warm. Still, even he needs some special care in the summer months.
During his first summer in Kentucky, Dorado struggled with the heat due to his living arrangement, which I described more thoroughly in a blog post last summer. We learned from his troubles, though, and figured out how to best keep him comfortable when the temperatures soar:
- From mid-May until about September or October, Dorado (and the rest of the horses at our barn, young and old) stay inside during the day—when temperatures are at their highest—and go outside at night. This allows him plenty of time to move around—generally 12 to 14 hours per day in turnout, not counting however long he works under saddle—but protects him from the often scorching Kentucky sun. An unintended perk from this arrangement? His dark bay coat stays dark—not sun-faded—all summer.
- All of the stalls at our barn are equipped with mounted fans, all of which approved for outdoor use—our barn owners prohibit fans that aren't approved for use in barns or outside. Each stall also has a window to allow for good air circulation. Last summer, there were just a handful of days that I entered the barn to find Dorado anywhere but in fan's cool airstream.
- It's always hot in Kentucky during the summer months, so I'll rarely ask Dorado to work during the hottest parts of the day. On weekends, I'll ride either very early in the morning or once the sun has set. During the week and after work, I generally arrive at the barn when the temperatures are still pretty warm, but much more tolerable (The Horse's managing editor Alexandra Beckstett, who authors The Winning Edge blog is really dedicated—she often rides her Warmblood very early in the morning before work and before the sun reaches its peak.) Dorado gets plenty of walk breaks during the summer months, and I try not to ask too much of him when it's hot and humid; he's pretty good about telling me when he's ready for more and when it's time to call it quits. There are also days—mainly when very high temperatures meet high humidity—that I don't even consider riding. Dorado just needs to focus on staying cool in those cases.
- And the last major step to keeping Dorado comfortable is cool water baths. Dorado always gets washed off after rides in the summer, and even on some days when riding isn't an option. I think it helps bring his body temperature back to normal after rides and gives me the opportunity to give him a good once over to see if I've missed any cuts, bumps, or swellings (they're much easier to see on a clean horse!).
Some of my senior horse owning friends also choose to clip their aging equids during the summer, especially those animals who don't shed out as well as they used to. Brandy, my family's 24-year-old Mini, often gets body clipped at least once every summer, which helps her stay cool despite her propensity to have a thick coat.
Summer temperatures vary depending on where in the world you live, so I know everyone's hot weather horse care protocol is different. How do you keep your seniors cool when temperatures rise? Please share your experiences below!