Heat illness and horse lovers. Stop sunstroke in the saddle.
This article was written for the mid-west but it might even be of more concern here in the southwest AZ, NM, TX, and CA. Dry heat is still hot when it over 100 degrees.
Wisconsin and Upper Midwestern equestrians yearn, all winter long, for balmy days of summer, when daily high temperatures range from a sweet 70 (F) degrees to more than 90 (F) degrees. We dream of warm-weather trail rides, outdoor arena training and gracious moments of grazing our horses in sun-filled green meadows.
By mid-summer, however, even Northern horseback riders may face the potential dangers of sunstroke. When temperatures climb to dangerous levels, sunstroke (or heatstroke) can be a very real health concern, even in Wisconsin. Heatstroke can be a dangerous heat-generated health condition. Overexertion in very warm temperatures and excessive exposure to the hot summer sun may lead to headache, sore muscles, fever, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. A sunstroke sufferer’s skin may appear dry and red.
Equestrians may face increased danger of heat illness, as compared to other athletes. Sitting atop a 1,000-pound animal in the summer heat can certainly speed up the rate at which a human being’s own body temperature may increase. (Remember high school physics class? Heat naturally rises.)
How can equestrians avoid heat-related illness?
Sunstroke can be best averted, if individuals minimize the duration of their exercising in direct sunlight. For active equestrians, this may be a tall order. Here are a few practical pointers for horseback riders seeking to prevent heatstroke:
1. Choose cool clothing.
Loose light cotton clothing offers a super shade against sunstroke. Horse show managers frequently adjust dress codes on blistering hot days, allowing competitors to ride without show jackets. For schooling or trail riding, equestrians often choose to leave long sleeves and leather chaps behind. A wide-brimmed summer hat can protect the head and much of the body around the barn, and a well-ventilated equestrian safety helmet helps a lot.
Many tack shops sell cooling bandannas, which may be chilled between uses. These neckerchiefs are filled with plastic pellets, which expand in water and offer considerable cooling to wearers.
2. Seek shade from the sun.
Lots of equestrians ride in airy indoor arenas, if possible, on blazing hot days. Others mount up under ring-sized awnings or coveralls. Still more saddle up for woodsy trail rides to get out of the sunshine for a while.
Some equestrian facilities offer covered areas for warm-ups and for those who show up to watch, rather than ride. This is especially appropriate at horse show or training clinic venues, where folks may linger for hours on warm days. More than a few individuals (especially spectators) like to carry parasols or umbrellas for summer shade at the stables, although this may not be practical, or even permitted, in many equestrian settings. Horses tend to shy at bumber-shoots.
3. Say “Neigh” to noon rides during heat waves.
In summer months, particularly in Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest, the hottest hours of the day tend to extend from approximately 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Equestrians and other athletes may minimize their chances of suffering from heatstroke by riding and training either earlier or later in the day. The hottest, most humid days of all may be most suitable for horse bathing, longe line training, groundwork games or exercises, bareback walks, or in-depth tack cleaning.
Sometimes it’s impossible to forgo rides during peak heat hours. Horse shows are a prime example. Those who must exercise their horses (or themselves) on such days may be advised to rest indoors or in a shady spot every half hour to stave off sunstroke. Horses will need extended cool-off walks and rests as well.
4. Do lots of deliberate drinking.
Proper hydration is essential on hot summer days. Equestrians and other athletes need to drink plenty of water, perhaps even twice their normal consumption. Electrolyte-enhanced beverages, such as sports drinks, may be appealing and helpful in preventing heat-related illness. Alcohol and caffeine both tend to increase consumers’ risk of dehydration, so these aren’t so helpful for rehydration in hot weather.
5. Find fans.
Plenty of area equestrians hang box fans on the fronts of their horses’ stalls. A smart horse lover will pony up for an extra fan or two, while these handy units are frequently discounted at the start of summer, for use in the tack room and barn aisle. Horse grooming, tack cleaning, and other barn chores can be considerably more pleasant with the extra cooling and air circulation, which also helps to prevent heat exhaustion. Horses tend to appreciate this comfort as well.
6. Have help on-hand for heatstroke.
Horseback riders or others who do suffer from sunstroke need to find ways to cool down as quickly as possible. Ice packs and cold or tepid showers are ideal. At the stables, equestrians may choose to bathe their horses with cool water and even mist themselves a bit. Anti-inflammatory drugs (such as acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen) may help with headaches and other pains, but they do not actually cure sunstroke. Alcohol rubs can make matters worse. Cooling off promptly is the best remedy for heat exhaustion.
Summer months naturally lend themselves to super outdoor riding for Wisconsin and Upper Midwestern equestrians. By following a few simple precautions, horseback riders may enjoy their favorite sport and their beloved equines, while keeping their cools as well.