The sunny days of summer bring extended daylight
hours and the clear weather that means more opportunities to ride outdoors. But some summer days are so hot and humid that they rightly cause us concern over the potential for heat-related health consequences— in our horses and in ourselves.
How much heat is too much to ride your horse? What can you do to keep your temperature regulated while working in the barn or riding? Here are some suggestions for preparing you and your horse to deal with high summer temperatures.
For The Rider
Wear light-colored apparel when you're working around the barn or riding outside. Light colors reflect sunlight. Dark colors absorb sunlight, so when you wear them, you'll feel hotter. Another benefit of wearing light-colored clothing, particularly if you ride on trails, is that you can more easily spot ticks crawling on your clothes before they have an opportunity to attach to your skin.
Our bodies perspire as part of a cooling process. To keep yourself feeling cooler and drier, look for summer riding apparel in a variety of technical fabrics that allow your skin to breathe. Look for fabrics that offer temperature or moisture management by wicking perspiration away from your skin. Coolmax is such a fabric, and it is found in articles of clothing from many manufacturers, including Tailored Sportsman, Equine Couture, TuffRider and more. Similar fabrics are Airmax, which is found in the Riding Sport line, Cooltex in the Kerrits clothing line and Dri-Lex in the Ovation clothing line.
On top, consider shirts such as those from CoolBlast by Dover in fun colors, or the Riding Sport by Dover Competition Shirt, also in fun colors and a breathable, lightweight fabric. Go sleeveless with the Kerrits® Contrast Tank Top or the Riding Sport™ by Dover Tank Top, which has perforations to provide extra ventilation.
On the bottom, many riders favor riding tights for summer riding. They're made of very lightweight and stretchy technical fabrics and are available in both knee patch and full seat styles. Consider tights from Kerrits, Irideon, Romfh, Devon-Aire and Riding Sport for the ultimate in comfort. Breeches such as the FITS PerforMAX Breeches and Equine Couture Coolmax Champion breeches are just two of the many examples of breeches that are designed to help keep you stylishly comfortable for schooling or showing.
Even socks and gloves are available with wicking benefits. Ovation® Coolmax Zocks™ are popular for riders who wear tall boots or half chaps, as they keep the entire calf and foot comfortable. Lightweight gloves from several manufacturers are specifically designed for summer riding. Examples include the Heritage Summer Trainer Glove, which offers ventilation and a unique terry cloth thumb for perspiration, and the Tredstep Summer Cool Glove in a lightweight and breathable fabric. Traditional crochet back gloves are still an affordable, perennial summer favorite, too!
Most styles of helmets have built-in ventilation features to help keep you comfortable. Samshield helmets have a discreet ventilation system that allows air to enter the front of the helmet and exit the back; other brands provide ventilation holes and air panels.
Helpful Tip for Showing:
Many show jackets and show shirts are made of advanced technical fabrics that are designed to keep competitors cool and comfortable while riding. Look to jackets from Animo, Grand Prix and GPA that are made of breathable, lightweight fabrics with wicking properties to move moisture away from the body. Look for shirts containing CoolMax, such as those from Tailored Sportsman, Essex Classics and Beacon Hill. Breeches come in a variety of fabrics with wicking properties, too. Finish your show ensemble with summer weight gloves and socks that contain CoolMax. For more information on proper show attire, refer to Correct Attire for the Hunter Ring, Correct Attire for the Jumper Ring or Correct Attire for the Dressage Ring.
Drink plenty of water - your body needs it to function properly. You lose moisture constantly through exhaling as well as perspiring, so you should sip water continually throughout the day. Many people aim to drink eight, eight ounce glasses of water per day to combat dehydration. Don't wait until you feel your mouth becoming dry to begin to drink and watch for other signs of dehydration such as headache, hunger and fatigue. Beverages containing caffeine and lots of sugar will not help you remain hydrated.
Tip: If you become uncomfortably overheated, put a towel soaked with cold water on the back of your neck, or run cold water on the inside skin on your wrists.
For Your Horse
Calculate and consider the heat index on any summer day that you plan your ride. The heat index will give you a good guideline to establish for working your horse.
Temperature + Humidity = Heat Index
Humidity represents the percentage of moisture saturating the air. You can find out the humidity percentage (and often the heat index itself) from your local weather reports. Many reports include this information as a matter of course once a heat wave settles in.
70 degrees Fahrenheit + 35% humidity = 105 (Pleasant sporting conditions)
95 degrees Fahrenheit + 85% humidity = 180 (Dangerous conditions for physical exertion)
Horses seem to prefer to work at mild conditions, such as 65 degrees Fahrenheit with a low humidity of perhaps 40%. (Just think of a horse's playfulness on a crisp spring or dry autumn day.) So it is up to us to make sure we don't overtax our horses on very hot days.
In combination with the heat index, consider your horse's fitness level and condition. If your horse is fit and trim, has no serious respiratory or medical concerns and has been working regularly as your summer season set in, then he will be fairly well equipped to be worked appropriately on a hot day. Include lots of walk breaks during your ride with time for your horse's breathing to return to a normal rate.
Conversely, if you horse only works sporadically, or if he is old, overweight, coming back from an injury, has a serious medical condition or has just transferred into your area from a cooler region, then you might skip riding on the hottest of summer days. Even a trail ride could cause a compromised horse to become overheated.
Note: If you have questions about your horse's ability to work in warm weather, or the extent to which he should work, be sure to discuss your concerns with your horse's veterinarian.
Tips courtesy of Dover Saddlery.