Heat Acclimation

This year, I’m trying to focus on heat. Dressy has always had issues at very hot rides. She is bigger than the Arabs, and is black (mostly) too boot.

She’s got a few advantages that do help to make up for those shortcomings of course, which is how she’s done as well as she has. She is fairly small-bodied. She looks bigger than she is because her withers are high, and her legs look very long with that shallow body. She’s exceedingly thin-skinned so when she heats up and starts to sweat, all her veins pop up under the surface and are very visible. That helps the blood to cool which then cools (relatively speaking) the rest of her.

She is always inverted coming into the vet checks. Inversion is when the horse’s breaths are faster than their heart rate. In other words, she pants just like a dog to cool down. It’s not a bad thing, so long as she doesn’t stay inverted for very long.  If my Arab, King, came into a check inverted I’d probably have heart failure myself (especially since he’s so lazy that he’s probably never stressed his system in his life). I expect it with Dressy though, and am not alarmed. I just get to work cooling her as fast and as aggressively as possible.

But this year, I’d like to see what I can do to improve her ability to cope with hot weather. So I’m trying a few new strategies.

The first thing is simple heat acclimatizing. She now has a heavier winter blanket. That’s going to stay on for the remainder of the winter and spring.

I also picked up a nice quarter sheet that just ties on the back of the saddle. It’s cotton with a polar fleece lining. I’ve put that on the saddle, and will leave it on all through the spring and early summer (except at rides of course). I rode her in it on Monday. I also have a heavy woolen quarter sheet that I could put on as well. But it has to go under the saddle, so it’s a bit more fiddly to tack her up with it.

Depending on her coat, I may clip her before the first ride. But her coat is normally very fine anyway, so I will have to see.

Another thing I’m trying this year is more salt in her diet. A lot more. All her meals now have loose salt added (she used to just get it in her morning feed). At the moment it’s around 2 ounces per day mixed into her Tri-max and soaked beet pulp. Normally horses will eat no more than 1% concentration of salt in meals before turning up their noses. But apparently if you gradually get them used to it they will eat a lot more. Susan Garlinghouse is giving up to 4 or 5 ounces of salt in each mash successfully.

The point to all that salt is to get Dressy drinking more water. She does drink well. But even as well as she drinks, I don’t think it’s enough to make up for the buckets of sweat coming off her. It should also allow me to feed her a lot more salt and/or electrolytes in her meals at rides. Which should help somewhat with electrolyte losses. In theory anyway… we’ll see how it all works out in practice!

3 Replies to “Heat Acclimation”

  1. For my standies, I always carry (at least) one extra water bottle on my saddle that is just for squirting on the horse I refill it at creeks, tanks, and wherever else I can find. I also sponge like a maniac, even at the beginning of a ride. I figure: the more water I put on my big, dark mare, the less sweat she will expend to stay cool. On a hot humid ride, I carry two bottles and a sponge for the horse, and two bottles for me.

    I do clip in February so she can train and be ready for the first ride of the year at the end of March–which is nearly always at least 10 degrees warmer than the weather we have at home!

    1. Oh yeah… ‘pre-cooling’! I do that too. Soak the mare down before the ride. Every little bit helps. Someone else suggested to me that I try adding some alcohol to the bottles I carry on the saddle as well. It would only help with the first bottle on each loop of course. The refills would just be regular water. But I have a huge jug of alcohol (leftover from darkroom supplies) that I will likely add to water when needed. And of course, ice. When I crewed my friend’s dark bay Morgan mare through the Old Dominion 100 a few years ago, we went through bags and bags of ice at every vet check.

      If I clip Dressy though, it’ll be just a couple of days before the first ride. I want to try leaving her heavy coat in place for conditioning to get some adaptation to heat. Then, in theory, she should stay cooler during the ride itself. I’ll probably shorten up her mane again this year too. Makes it way easier to sponge if her mane is at show braiding length.

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