Jul 22, 2022

Don't Sweat It: Surviving Peak Season Heat for Horses and Riders

USEA/ Leslie Mintz photo

Picture it: you’re in your early teens, it’s 1990-something, and you’re sitting on your horse at a mid-summer event throbbing inside a woolen twill tailcoat with a long-sleeved cotton shirt underneath. Your parent is there offering you a Gatorade, your trainer is pouring rubbing alcohol down your steed’s neck and the air smells of sweat. It’s a likely memory for everyone who has ridden the curve of the equine apparel industry for the last three decades or more, now graduating to lightweight sun shirts and stretchier, moisture-wicking breeches, and dare we say the magic word when it comes to peak summer heat: mesh!

With breathability as a top priority, clothing and saddle pads of this nature are first on the list to help our bodies, and our horses, alleviate trapped heat so our sweating is worthwhile. Second on the priority list is hydration, which goes much further than just drinking plenty of fluids. Here are some tips and tricks of the summer season—simple, practical, and accessible for successful and safe rides.

Vital Minerals & Hydration

Horses and riders lose large amounts of salt when they sweat, which means our vital minerals need to be replenished or an electrolyte imbalance may show itself by way of heat exhaustion, fainting due to low blood pressure, or even through cardiovascular signs like heart palpitations. To avoid being depleted, pack yourself some of these staples for the next event: bananas and coconut water—both naturally high in potassium, which is an essential mineral for producing and maintaining energy—and apple juice, for you and your horse! Apple juice has high water content and it’s highly palatable for someone who has a sensitivity to heat and is upset stomach prone, or for a horse who is finicky about drinking foreign water. Another horse and rider double-whammy is watermelon. It’s high in potassium, which also means you could lower your stress, irritability, and anxiety because of its beneficial properties. Plus, it’s a nice, fresh treat for your partner, too. Dairy products, while excellent sources of calcium, tend to not prove themselves useful or palatable on a hot or humid day.

If you and your horse prefer the use of supplements, SmartPak has SmartLytes® in a pellet or powder. Routines are a good way to keep your horse balanced in exercise and nutrition, and when placed in a stressful environment such as competition or while traveling, sticking with the same daily plan, or adding to it in a familiar way, can curb extra stress along the way. This is a simple and easy option, especially for a horse on a grain regiment. Add a scoop of this trusty nutrient boost to his or her meals and you can buy yourself some peace of mind come competition time.

If you’re able, lugging water from your home or your horse’s stable—wherever your horse resides—is a good idea when traveling or arriving at a new place. While water from other sources can be perfectly safe, your horse may not like the smell of it or may not trust it, thus sending both of you into a waiting game—your horse waiting for their familiar water, and you waiting for them to try out the new water. With the stress of competition and environmental factors already at play, it’s a great idea to simplify when possible. To take this one step further, introducing whatever water bucket you plan on using while traveling several days before loading up your horse. This way when they’re taken out of their familiar territory the bucket is already established as a safe source for their hydration.

Cooling Technology

The classic look of a helmet, jacket, pants, and leather boots (and all of their variations) is a staple to our discipline, but also a stark contrast when you see other sportsmen or sportswomen in free-flowing shorts and jerseys. Our attire needed newer technology, and fortunately, that’s exactly what we got. Kerrits Equestrian Apparel offers Ice Fill® technology for shirts and breeches, and the Ice Fill® basically converts sweat to cooling energy, meaning it takes our heat and cools it down to act like an air conditioning system for our bodies. Their options for schooling or eventing are flattering, lightweight, and stretch-woven for the perfect move-with-you feel. In addition, Mountain Horse also offers some great gear for all weather conditions as well.

There’s no doubt that this level of comfort aids in our performance while riding, so it makes sense that saddle pads have also seen advancements. Today, there are saddle pads that sense sweat and dissipate it away by evaporating the moisture. Meanwhile, there are other options that use cooling crystals to help signal a cooling effect to a horse’s back once the crystals come in contact with any moisture. And, back to our favorite word—mesh!—there are pads that are minimalistic, contouring to the shape of your saddle and allowing heat to escape through the top of the pad where there are visible holes incorporated into a sleek design—perfect for opening up that gallop and letting some air run along that topline in cross-country!

When all three phases are complete, throwing a cooler on your horse gives us some serious winter vibes but in reality, coolers work great in the summer, too. There are carbon coolers that are super lightweight and suitable for keeping cool before or after a ride, or even during travel when a big metal box seems rather unappealing to your partner. This product and ones just like it have harnessed the ability to maintain muscle temperature throughout your horse’s body without causing heat build-up. Of course, alternatively, a sponge bath after a successful stadium round is the oldest trick in the book and works just as efficiently. Don’t forget to give yourself a good wring from the sponge, too!

No Brainers

It might sound silly to recommend accessibility as a pro-tip during peak heat but it can surprisingly be easily overlooked. If your horse is expected to drink from a communal trough or bucket that is out of his normal environment, he or she may be hesitant to walk right up and take a swig. A new pecking order could be in place or new fears can be at play that might dissuade your horse from doing something that they usually do with confidence. Frequently check your horse’s water source and offer new water frequently.

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