When considering how to take care of a horse in hot weather, especially when a heatwave is forecasted to last for several days or weeks, it’s important to know how to keep a horse cool, comfortable and healthy. The British Horse Society (BHS) has warned of the dangers to horses from strong UV rays.

“Horses are affected by the sun in the same way as humans. So during hot weather spells, a number of steps need to be taken to ensure horses are kept comfortable and healthy,” said BHS welfare campaigns officer Gabby Madders. “Poor management can lead to lethargy, sunburn and dehydration, and in severe cases heat stroke.

“Like paler-skinned and fair-headed humans, horses with flesh-coloured skin and grey or white hair are most susceptible to burning. Horse owners need to ensure high-factor SPF sun cream is applied liberally around sensitive areas, including the nose, to prevent sunburn.”

The British Horse Society also advises that the following action is taken to take care of a horse in hot weather:

  • Ensure your horse has constant access to clean water throughout the day.
  • Fields should have shaded areas, or horses can be left in the stable during the day and turned out overnight.
  • Owners should monitor vital signs and behaviours for heat-related illnesses.

How to help a horse in hot weather

Vet Alistair Love MRCVS has shared the following tips to ensure your horse continues to thrive in hot weather.

  1. Ride early in the morning or late in the evening, avoiding the hottest part of the day. This will also help to avoid the worst of the flies. On a particularly hot day, if you don’t need to ride, don’t — unfit and/or overweight horses will find working in hot weather particularly stressful.
  2. Consider the length of time you’re riding for. Instead of doing an intense ride in the arena, perhaps go out for a relaxed hack.
  3. Take care when riding on hard ground and check your fields for dangerous rutted areas that could cause your horse to trip.
  4. If you’ve been on a hot ride, cold hose your horse after any work to help them cool down and reduce the risk of heatstroke. Continually pouring water over them is an effective way to help them cool down — don’t use a scraper.
  5. Make sure your horse has access to shade/shelter when in the field. Many horses may prefer to be stabled during the hottest parts of the day and turned out overnight.
  6. Consider the ventilation in the horse’s stable. Keep windows open and use fans where necessary.
  7. Make sure any pink noses or heels are protected from the sun. You can use sun lotion, but a stickier gel product will stick better as your horse grazes. Face masks that cover the muzzle can also be useful, but avoid putting on any sort of rug when it’s hot.
  8. If transporting your horse to an event, make sure they are allowed out of the horsebox/trailer as quickly as possible. Don’t leave them shut inside the box for long periods of time as it will be too hot, and keep it well ventilated.
  9. Park in a shady spot to keep your horsebox cooler for your return journey.
  10. Worried your horse isn’t drinking enough water? Soaking hay and adding water to feeds are two simple but effective ways to increase their water intake.

What is heatstroke in horses?

Heatstroke can happen in horses, and high temperatures and hot weather are key triggers. Symptoms to look out for in your horse include:

  • Restlessness/Lethargy
  • Rapid pulse and breathing
  • Increased sweating
  • Excessive salivation
  • Redness of the tongue and oral area
  • High body temperature
  • Erratic heart beat
  • Muscle spasms
  • Stumbling gait, and in extreme situations, collapse

If you see these signs, or are in any doubt, call your vet immediately.

Subscribe and save up to 49%

Find out what’s inside the latest issue of Your Horse

Get the latest issue