How to Care for your Horse in the Harsh Australian Climate

The Australian climate is an unforgiving one, especially for horses. Many horses suffer from anhidrosis, or the inability to sweat normally. Sweating is essential for cooling down in hot weather, as takes heat with it when it evaporates on the skin. Unfortunately, in some horses the sweat glands either partially or completely stop producing sweat, making it incredibly difficult for it to stay cool. In an effort to do so, they will breathe faster in an attempt to offload heat from their lungs. Horses with anhidrosis are therefore at great risk of hyperthermia, potentially leading to death if not tended to. Even for horses without anhidrosis, excess heat can lead to dehydration, lethargy, diarrhoea and colic. To best take care of your horse in the heat, follow our tips below.

Time your activities well

Let your horse out for exercise or roaming around at the coolest points of the day such as sunrise or sunset. If necessary, you can also let your horse to graze during the night. Make sure to check the quality of the grass when it is excessively hot: if it’s not in a good state due to the heat, supplement additional feed to your horse.

Provide shade

A lot of the horses in Australia get to enjoy wide open plains, but this of course comes with some risk during the heat. Make sure that there are an array of trees at your property, or additional shelter that your horse can cool down under.

Provide plenty of water

It goes without saying that water is essential for making it through the heat. If your horse tends to avoid drinking water, try putting a salt block in their trough or misting hay with salt water to make it more enticing while also providing much-needed electrolytes.

Cool down your stables

On a sweltering day, a stable can become a sauna. Try to design your stables so that there is good airflow, or set up large fans to cool down your horse. Misting systems are also a great option if you wish to make the stables even more comfortable. If need be, you can hose them down with cool water for instant relief.

Work wisely

Carefully consider whether you need to work your horse during a hot spell. If it is necessary, try to get the bulk of the work done early in the morning and allow for lots of rest.  

Consider an electrolyte supplement

Electrolyte supplements allow you to quickly replenish your horse’s electrolyte supplies after it has exerted itself. Make sure to choose a balance of electrolytes that matches the amount found in horse’s sweat.

Limit protein

Diets that are too high in protein can have a negative effect on horses with anhidrosis. Digesting protein generates a lot of heat, and also means the horse’s system needs to work to get rid of the excess nitrogen in the protein. Additionally, excreting nitrogen can also get rid of a lot of water and electrolyte. This means that you should focus on feeding your horse more grassy pasture and hay than soybeans, lucerne and the like during hot spells.

Prevent sunburn

It can be easy to overlook the fact that horses can suffer from sunburn too, especially white horses. Avoid sunburn. A fly scrim can be an effective solution, as is applying sunscreen to certain sensitive areas. Of course, the most effective solution of all is providing shade, as discussed above.

Clip excessively long coats

Clipping long coats can make it easier for your horse to cool itself down, especially in the case of horses who have pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (also known as Cushing’s disease). However, make sure not to trim too much as a little bit of a coat can provide some protection from the sun and insulation.

Look out for signs of heat stroke

It’s essential to know your horse and the signs it may display if suffering from heat stroke so that you can act promptly. These signs include an elevated heart rate that does not return to normal, excessive sweating or lack of sweating, a temperature above 39 degrees, depression or lethargy, and signs of dehydration such as poor skin turgor and capillary refill.

During Australia’s intense hot periods, keep a close eye on your horse, especially if it is very young, very old or suffers from anhidrosis. If you are concerned that your horse is suffering in the heat, contact your vet immediately.

Nutrition goes a long way to keeping your horse cool on those sweltering days. Gilberts is the number one destination for horse feed, nutritional supplements and other supplies to keep your horse healthy even in the most difficult conditions.