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.

Securing Water Buckets

You know how some horses tip their water buckets over in their stables? Making a soggy mess of their bed and going thirsty overnight.

Phoenix isn’t a serial offender, but it happens frequently enough for me to look into alternative options.

Most people who don’t have automatic drinkers have buckets with handles, which are filled by carrying smaller buckets to it, using a hose pipe, or filling it at the tap and carrying it to the stable. But once these get empty they can be tipped over easily and played with. Plastic tub trugs are the most common ones.

I had a scout round the yard to see what other people use as a water container, and saw that some people have containers on wheels, which they fill at the tap and roll into their stable when full. They are called “rolling garden carts” online and are widely available. The useful thing about these is that a normal sized water bucket will fit within.

Now this is great for your back, but how can I use this to stop Phoenix knocking the bucket over? Well there’s a handle at the top of the cart which I could attach to the wall.

I didn’t want to faff around with string on a daily basis, so I asked my chauffeur for some ideas.

I’m really impressed with his solution. Using an old leg strap from a rug, sewn onto the handle of the cart, we now had a clip to fasten to the wall. Then we (the royal we) screwed an eye plate to the wall to clip the cart to.

It’s very easy to use, unclips easily and it’s nice not breaking my back carrying water in the morning. So here you are, a little stable life hack for you!

A Watery Job

This morning I moved Otis into a new field of grass quickly. He had his hard feed and then went off grazing happily.

I knew the fencing was secure and it was clear of droppings, but when I got back a couple of hours later I realised I hadn’t checked his trough, just from a distance, as it was a double one between two fields. So I wandered over to the large, old fashioned metal field trough and was disgusted! The water was slimy, green, and opaque! Immediately we started emptying it with a nearby bucket, whilst holding the ballcock up to stop it refilling.

Soon it became apparent that a thorough clean was needed; the sides were silty and the bottom crawling with bugs and tiny red worms. Gross!

Otis watched in interest before turning his nose up in disgust – it stank like a rock pool!

Leaving the ballcock propped up on the upturned bucket we returned to the yard to get proper supplies – string to tie the ballcock up, brushes to remove the silt, a fence post to lever the trough up, and a square container for getting into the corners. Oh, and a snow shovel to help lift the grime at the bottom of the trough.

Then the work began; we scrubbed, rinsed, and emptied the trough, before trying to tip it up on its side in order to scrape the debris out. My helper, complete with his stout work boots, declared the electric fence off, so we proceeded to lift one side of the trough. Suddenly, I yelped, snatching my right hand off the trough. He looked at me in surprise – it wasn’t that heavy – then I yelped again, letting go completely of the trough so my poor helper was left grasping this substantial metal trough.

“The electric’s still on!” I cried, wriggling my fingers to get them functioning again. All I got was a look of surprise, as my helper continued holding the trough against the wire. He wasn’t being electrocuted!

We think it was his sturdy work boots that protected him, but we changed tactics anyway. He levered the trough up at one end while I rolled like a soldier during training (I’m sure it’s got a proper name) under the electric wire to scrape out the silt from the bottom of the trough. 

All cleaned out, we let the ballcock drop and lovely crystal clear water started filling the trough. As the trough was so bad we’ll be doing it again on the weekend and then I’ll go back to my usual check every time I walk past it poo-picking.

Cleaning out water troughs is never a nice job, but the more frequently it’s done, the less it smells and the shorter the job is. But how many people remember to check and clean their troughs?

We’ve captures horses and made them live in one small area, preventing them wandering in search of the best water source, so it’s only fair that we supply the best water we can.

That means the water is clean: the trough is cleaned out regularly and the water source uncontaminated. The trough is big enough for the number of horses in the field and is easily accessible to reduce the chances of infighting. The trough itself needs to be safe, with no sharp edges or corners, the metal shouldn’t be rusty, and the pipe that supplies it secure so that playful ponies can’t chew it off.

In hot weather it is much easier to have a self filling trough, and I don’t think I’d consider turning a horse out 24/7 without one. What if they tip it just after you leave? That’s twelve hours until you return and they’re next offered water. 

So hopefully this post has made you think about your water supply to your fields, and tomorrow you’ll go and check it, because it’s very easy to overlook a self filling trough when you are engrossed in your poo-picking!

Hydrating the Horse

I was out competing over the weekend, and with the heatwave we are currently experiencing hydrating horses and people becomes a problem.

For the human entourage I obtained a pack of six 1L bottles of water. Sure, that`s an excessive amount but what we didn`t drink wouldn`t go to waste. Then we had the rest of our food stashed in cool bags, even the crisps! We made sure we bought an ice cream halfway through the day too. Obviously.

On the horse front I filled the 30L container to the brim and put that in the trailer. My horse always sweats when travelling so I try and make sure I have enough to wash him down plenty of times.

For breakfast, Otis had Calm and Condition in his feed, which is a soaked feed, so provides plenty of H2O.

Once we arrived at the venue he was sponged off, but stayed in the trailer while I got my number. Our dressage test was at midday so the hottest part of the day, which meant that within minutes he was dripping with sweat.

So after the dressage he was offered another drink and washed off. I didn`t bother using the sweat scraper because he`s not a big drinker so I wanted him to get the benefit of having as much cool water as possible on his skin. He stayed inside the cool trailer, with the vents and front ramp open for an hour and a half while we walked the cross country course and watched a bit of the class below me.

When we got back to the trailer Otis still didn`t want a drink, which is always worrying because when horses get dehydrated they lose the want to drink any water. So we sponged him off again and let him have a munch on the long grass, which was surprisingly damp still. Then I went off and did my showjumping, coming back both very hot and sweaty. It wasn`t long until the cross country and he still wasn`t interested in drinking, so he was well rinsed off while I changed outfits and leaving him with damp shoulders I tacked him back up.

Amazingly, Otis still wasn`t interested in water after the tiring cross country phase, and he was panting quite a lot so we used about three buckets of water washing him off cooling his legs down, and walking him around. After he`d stopped panting I let him have a bit more of the lush grass. I did the pinch test on his skin and he didn`t seem dehydrated, but it`s always worrying when I`m guzzling down water like it`s going out of fashion and he isn`t interested. The granola bars were another thing all together, and Otis would have quite happily eaten the whole box! While I was munching mine he practically nibbled the rest out of my hand! Perhaps I should put them in his water next time…

Once we got home, and Otis wasn`t too sweaty, I mixed him another feed with Calm and Condition and drowned it in water. He was going to drink something! I think he drank out of his stable drinker fairly early on, and I washed his sides again to get the salty sweat off. I then left him in with a good amount of haylage and plenty of water.

To my relief this morning Otis seemed non the worse for wear, and we`d kept him hydrated and he`d drunk quite a lot in the night because his bed had two large wet patches.

It`s hard keeping the horses interested in drinking when it`s so warm though. I think you can buy a water flavouring for fussy drinkers, but also washing them with loads of water means that it is absorbed through the skin, thus hydrating them. Soaked hay, or haylage will help too because of the moisture content, and also just good old fresh rich grass. Like the sort you usually have in lorry parks!

Some people add table salt to the feed to ensure that the horse`s sodium levels don`t drop, but this can make the feed unpalatable, especially if it`s not mixed in very well. Other people feed electrolytes, and you can now get them in an energy-drink style bottle, that you almost tube to the horse. These seem a good idea in an emergency, or at competitions but I guess they have short shelf lives. The other alternative is the electrolyte feed supplement, which is a powder and has a longer shelf life, but similar problems to feeding table salt.
Others swear by a salt lick in the stable, but I think that can be hit and miss as to whether your horses is using it, or whether he`s overloading himself with sodium by constantly licking it. I think too that in the natural salt licks the actual sodium content varies greatly. On the other hand, if a salt lick is available then a horse will seek it out when they feel low in salt. Much the same as in the wild when horses browse for different herbs and grasses.

Wouldn`t it be so much easier if they could just tell us what they need in their diet?

The Puddle

Due to February’s horrendous rain the ground has started to dry up, but the hills are leaking water which is running off the ground and pooling in the lowest points.

This lead to the formation of a puddle outside one of our fields. I say puddle. It’s knee deep (half a centimetre off my wellies) with a strong current and about 50 yards long and 6 foot wide.

Obviously this causes some problems when bringing horses in and out of that field. Like one day last week when I turned out three mares.
I reached the puddle and the roan mare went straight in and started pawing the water, spraying me, herself and the others with droplets. I growled her name angrily and she paused momentarily. The second mare also walked straight into the puddle and started drinking from it like she’d never seen water. The third mare, however, stood on the edge refusing to get the tips of her toes wet.

You can imagine it I’m sure. Water spraying us, one horse drinking, a lot of splashing and another horse leaning back refusing to wade in. I’m lucky I didn’t fall over in that puddle! After a bit of growling and waving of lead ropes I managed to reach the gate and pull one horse at a time through.

All in a days work.