Horses and Heat

Horses and Heat don’t mix very well do they? Poo picking, stable chores and riding are sweaty work in average temperatures.

The trouble in the UK is that we aren’t geared up for hot weather. Our native breeds have dense coats all year round, and the temperatures tend to sky rocket for days at a time before dropping again, which makes it hard for everyone to acclimatise.

If we are due only a couple of days of hot weather then I think I sit with the majority of equestrians in either riding early in the morning or giving the horses a day off. It’s also then easy to rearrange my work onto cooler days.

However, if the heat is here to stay, then there’s a degree of acclimatising to do. Especially if you compete. It’s all very well avoiding the heat and riding early in the morning, but what if your class falls at midday? As painful as it is pulling jodhpurs on over slippery, sun creamed legs, you do need to ride during the day so you are both prepared to ride a dressage test in the scorching heat. If a horse is in rehab, or needs to be exercised in order to lose weight then long periods of down time aren’t conducive, so it’s better to do lower intensity work for a few days than nothing at all. For example, I’d say that this week it is acceptable for a pony on fat camp to do less work because he’s unfit and finding it difficult to work and plateau in terms of building fitness and losing weight. Weight is maintained rather than lost, or even worse put on! When it gets cooler, his workload and weight loss can increase again.

However, exercise does need to be adapted in this heat, taking into account humidity, horse and rider fitness, taking lots of breaks, seeking shade, avoiding fast work and jumping in the heat of the day. Some horses cope better with the heat – usually finer coated animals, and those with no excess fat. Older horses tend to struggle with the heat too.

My lessons this week, working around the heatwave, have involved;

  • Hacking with a young client and teaching her about the ground, where it is suitable to trot, how to ride up and down hills, and what to look out for when riding in woods and fields. All the time building her confidence to trot independently on hacks.
  • Long reining and in hand work.
  • Walk poles.
  • Teaching the different types of walk so that rider and pony don’t waste the elongated walk breaks, and to encourage them to have slow and steady schooling sessions for the rest of the week.
  • Taking a horse into the jump paddock and desensitising him to traffic on the other side of the hedge, and riding him around and between jump fillers.
  • Stable management.
  • No stirrup work, as riders are usually happier with shorter bursts of work.
  • Transitions, especially halt transitions.
  • Lateral work and rein back.
  • Bareback.

I like having lessons at an enforced steady pace. Walk is so often overlooked, and improving the walk makes dramatic improvements to the quality of the trot and the transitions. I was really pleased with how one lady started to get a longer striding, swinging walk and then floated along in the trot, truly using his back and looking very supple through his ribcage.

The important thing to remember is that everyone copes with the hot weather differently, and to remember frequent breaks, sun cream, modified riding attire (I’ve not used gloves all week), and to drink lots of water. Each lesson has begun with me asking my client where their water is, and to say if they feel unwell or need to stop for a break. Then I know the lesson will run more smoothly.

Fly Masks

I bought Otis a new fly mask this season. Well, two actually. I can`t believe the number available, in numerous sizes; some with fluffy padding, some providing UV protection, some with ears covers, and some with nose nets. Then of course comes the range of colours and the material.

The first fly mask Otis had this year has ear covers, mainly because a couple of years ago he got bitten inside his ear and it abscessed – not at all pleasant. So I like to keep the flies away from his sensitive lugholes. However, the downside to these ear covers is that if your horse has ears that fill the covers the stitching and excess material on the inside can rub the tips of the ears. Debris also collects there, so as well as washing the mask I also need to turn the ears inside out. The little rubs on the tips of his ears have caused me to purchase another fly mask without ears, with the idea that a couple of weeks break from the ear covers will allow his ears to heal and then I can revert to the original fly mask.

The original fly mask is well shaped, with a fairly rigid mesh because I don`t like the idea of the mask lying too close to the eyes, which is why I opted for one with more contours and not such a soft, floppy material. I’m sure it damages the sensitive eye whiskers, and can`t be that comfortable for the horse. At the other end of the scale the stiff mesh fly masks don’t contour to the horse`s facial shape and are more likely to rub because the material is not as forgiving. It`s personal preference, but fly masks are now made of far more superior materials than the ones the first graced the market a couple of decades ago.

I never looked for a nose net for fly masks for Otis because although he has a small patch of white on his lip, he doesn`t suffer from sun burn, but this mask I bought earlier this season happened to have a nose net. It doesn’t cause a problem for Otis, but some horses don`t like the feel of a net around their muzzle. The nets also collect dust, from grazing and from their nose so need cleaning frequently.

Some masks, and they tend to be at the higher end of the market, have UV protection, which is a must if your horse suffers from uveitis, blue eyes, or has sensitive, pink skin because this could still get sunburnt with a normal mask. Do these masks come with UV nose nets because I assume that horses requiring UV protection to their face are likely to need similar protection on their muzzle.

Another accessory on fly masks is padding; if your horse has sensitive skin then it`s another thing to consider. Some have discreet fleece over the stitching and edges of the mask, whilst others have more elaborate padding. Again, this is down to personal preference. If your horse needs the padding to prevent rubbing then it is definitely worth considering, however the padding makes the mask warmer so you may get into trouble on hot days. I find the discreet fleece edging an attractive option.

Finally, you want to consider the fastening for the mask. One strap or two straps? Double Velcro? If you have a horse who plays with his field mates then a secure fastening is the most important aspect, however it also needs to be quick and easy to put on, either in the gateway or around the headcollar on the yard. I also prefer the masks to fit quite snugly around the jaw because I worry that the ones that are a little loose in their fit can allow flies up inside the mask, which would be torturous for a more horse and potentially cause a bad accident.

I`ll start off with a picture of Otis in his bug-like fly mask, but lets see your horses sporting their summer head wear too, with a bit of blurb about the type of mask you chose.