Last week I returned from my one big out-of-town summer horse show adventure: two weeks competing at the new Tryon International Equestrian Center in North Carolina. And let me tell you, that place was super cool! It was not, however, physically cool; mid-July on the North and South Carolina border is sweltering.

Horses and riders could keep cool under the many shaded waiting areas with overhead fans.

Photo: Alexandra Beckstett

Fortunately, the facility’s designer put a lot of thought into incorporating ways to keep horses and riders cool and hydrated during long stretches of summer shows. Here are some of the features I know my horse Hannah and I appreciated:

  • Airy, well-ventilated barns. At 10-by-12 feet, the permanent barns’ stalls were larger than you typically see at horse shows. They were also quite open, each one included safely mounted fans, and the aisles were extra wide for airflow.
  • Shaded “waiting areas” with fans. Next to each arena was a covered area large enough for half a dozen horses to gather under safely and equipped with four high-powered fans.
  • Free water! There was no shortage of well-stocked coolers full of complimentary water bottles across the property. No one wants a rider passing out post-show jumping round.

But these amenities alone won’t keep you or your horse from overheating or becoming dehydrated when it’s 95 degrees out with no breeze and not a cloud in the sky. Hannah and I took extra precautions to stay safe.

First of all, we (yes, we) wore sunscreen. I’ll burn to a crisp without it, and Hannah’s cute white nose will turn a painful shade of pink if we don’t give her a little extra protection before spending long periods of time out in the sun.

We also did most of our schooling at dawn. Hannah got a hack every morning around 7 a.m., before the heat really took hold, so that when it was time to show at, say, high noon, she’d be quiet and relaxed and we’d only need a couple minutes of warm up before heading into the ring.

If I had at least 20 minutes between classes, I’d run Hannah back to the barn, pull her tack off and throw her in her stall for a few minutes so she could pee and drink. She’s got this routine down pat! Otherwise, if there wasn’t enough time for a trip back to the barn, I’d just dismount and loosen her girth and camp out under one of those waiting area fans.

Hannah also got plenty of cool-down time after a hard work. This was easy and enjoyable thanks to the “horses only” walking paths that wound throughout the property (they could use a few more trees for shade, though!).

Hannah got one, if not two, baths a day (a rinse post-morning workout and another after showing) to stay cool, and her stall fan ran day and night. All these baths can be tough on some horses’ feet, however, so we keep a two-in-one hoof conditioner and toughener on hand at shows.

Fortunately, Hannah’s a great drinker, so I don’t worry much about her staying hydrated. She gets electrolytes supplemented in her feed this time of year, though, to help replenish those lost in sweat. And she’s a great sweater – even her eyelids sweat!

For the horse in the barn that is a bit anhidrotic (doesn’t sweat well, if at all), my trainer times his rides for the coolest parts of the day and gives him an electrolyte formula designed for horses in intense work. It’s actually helped him start sweating.

What steps do you take to keep horse and human safe and cool during summer?