Summertime is easily every horse owner’s favourite season. No more muddy fields, longer sunny days to enjoy riding and a jam-packed show calendar – what’s not to love?
While we enjoy all the benefits of the summer sun, it’s important to remember that the summertime can be hard on our horses as they evolved for chiller climates. As horse owners, we need to be vigilant in caring for our horses while being aware of the common health problems associated with summer so we can identify them early and take action to protect them.
Here’s what to be on the watch for this season:
Cracked & Bruised Hooves
While there are many benefits to our horses’ fields being nice and dry throughout the summer, there is a downside. As the ground becomes more dehydrated, the amount of moisture readily available to be absorbed by the horses’ hoof wall reduces. Hence, the hoof wall becomes drier and more prone to developing cracks. Small cracks in the hoof wall aren’t concerning, but larger cracks can harbour bacteria and lead to the development of abscesses and lameness. Therefore, we must ensure a good hoof care routine throughout summer. Regular greasing of hooves with good quality hoof greases such as Kevin Bacon Hoof Grease or Effol will help keep them in tip-top condition.
Another summer hoof condition to be wary of is bruised hooves. Like our skin, the horse’s hoof bruises when blunt force trauma causes blood vessels to rupture and leak. In the summertime, bruising to the hoof will occur from either repetitive concussion on hard ground or repeated stamping in response to flies. Bruises sometimes are seen on the soles of a horse’s feet, and a horse with a bruised sole will appear footsore and tender on firm ground. If the bruised hoof capsule cracks and bacteria enter, the bruise becomes an abscess, making the horse dramatically lame. Trying to prevent hoof bruising when the ground is firm can be tricky. It is crucial to keep the pace slow while exercising horses on the hard; stick to walking or trotting. Before turning your horse out in the field, spray them from head to toe in a decent fly spray. Our bestsellers are Power Phaser by Leovet or Extra Strength Fly Spray from Carr, Day & Martin. These will help reduce fly stamping, especially when teamed up with our Pessoa Combo Fly Rug.
Conjunctivitis is when the membranes around the horse’s eyes swell and become puffy due to infection. Most commonly, conjunctivitis results from flies swarming around the horse’s face as they are attracted to the moisture in their eyes. To rid themselves of the irritation from flies’ horses will then rub their eyes against their knees to encourage the flies to leave. But in doing so, any bacteria the flies carry gets rubbed into the sensitive eyelid membranes causing further irritation and a breeding ground for an infection to develop. Conjunctivitis signs include when the horse’s eye is swollen and puffy with an angry, red-looking pink membrane under the eyelids. Horses’ eyes may also be weepy and runny. The best protection you can give your horse against conjunctivitis is a well-fitted fly mask such as the Armour Shield Fly Mask from Le Mieux. Not only will this help to keep insects away and protect your horses’ eyes, but it will also offer protection from wind-blown dust irritations. If you think your horse has conjunctivitis, you will need to call the vet, who will prescribe a topical antibiotic cream and rule out anything more sinister.
Dehydration is much more than your horse just being thirsty. It can occur at any time of the year but is more common throughout the summer months when the horse’s fluid loss from sweating is more significant than their intake of fluid from drinking. Dehydration can severely affect our horse’s health and cause potentially life-threatening conditions such as impaction colic. The best way to recognise if your horse is dehydrated is to do a simple pinch test, just like humans. Pinch the skin in the point of the horse’s shoulder and then release it. If it bounces back like a piece of elastic, your horse is sufficiently hydrated; however, if there is a delay of 6 – 10 seconds, call your vet immediately. To avoid dehydrating your horse, ensure they always have access to fresh water. Some horses refuse to drink whilst they are travelling or when away from home, so to encourage them to drink, try adding some apple to juice to their water or putting some carrots in the water bucket. Failing that, you could offer them a sloppy mash feed to help increase their fluid intake. We also recommend feeding electrolytes such as Gold Label Electrolytes to help replace any essential minerals lost via sweat.
Just like us, humans’ horses also need protection from the sun. Sunburn occurs when our horses are over-exposed to UV rays and is common in horses with pink skin. The pigment melanin naturally protects horses with dark skin, and the horses’ coat offers some protection too. Therefore, the areas most at risk for sunburn are those pink areas with little to no hair covering like the horses’ nose and muzzle. It’s easy to identify sunburn as the horses’ skin will be red and swollen, the skin may also crack, and in more extreme cases, there may be some bleeding, or the skin will ooze clear fluid. If your horse has sunburn, you should treat it using a thick emollient cream, and if this doesn’t help clear it up, speak with your vet for further advice. To help protect your horse on sunny days, we recommend using the Armour Shield Pro Full Fly Mask from Le Mieux, designed with a nose flap to cover pink muzzles protecting them from the sun. We also recommend applying a generous layer of sun cream with UVA and UVB protection if your horse will let you.
Heat and humidity can have severe effects on our horse’s health. Horses evolved in cooler climates where they needed to hold heat to keep warm, serving them well during the winter months. During the summer, however, this can cause their internal body temperature to rise quickly, especially whilst exercising or exerting themselves in the field. Should the horse’s body temperature reach 40 degrees Celsius, its metabolic system will stop functioning correctly, and its organs will start to shut down, ultimately leading to death. Horses sweat excessively from heat stress, especially across their neck, shoulders, rump, and lower legs. In extreme cases, they may even stop sweating because their system is so stressed, while their breathing will become deep and rapid. Horses will also appear dull, lethargic, and uninterested in food. If you suspect your horse is suffering heat stress, stop working immediately, douse them in cold water and call your vet. To avoid heat stress, however, we recommend providing your horse access to shade during the hottest part of the day and avoiding any fast, hard work.