The weather was cool and lovely in June, and we've had a few cool days lately; but as I keep telling the horses, the dog days will catch up with us as sure as death and taxes.
While the hot time of year may be named for canines, our equines' needs are very important during the dog days. There are things to do that can help protect your horse from the ill effects of heat and that can help to make him more comfortable.
Personally, I can't understand why anyone -- equine or human -- would want to do anything more than loll around in air-conditioned splendor when the temperature gets above about 68 degrees. But there are good reasons -- I'm told -- why people and horses work in hot weather.
If you do need to work your horse in the heat, make sure that he is properly conditioned. You must have a realistic exercise program, you need to adjust your horse's diet for the heat and the work you expect him to do, and you need to maintain your horse's proper fluid and electrolyte levels. All of these things will go a long way to help keep your horse out of trouble when he has to work in hot weather.
It is essential that you know how to cool out your horse properly when he has finished working. Most horsemen know that after a workout a horse must be walked until his body temperature returns to the normal range. During this time a horse should not be allowed to gulp water, but he can be given small sips of water from time to time.
You can also use water to cool off your horse while you are walking. When our horses' rapidly working muscles suddenly come to a stop, they can no longer be cooled by the air moving over them. But cool water can be sponged over the horse's head, neck and legs to hasten cooling by evaporation.
You should apply the water to the large superficial blood vessels of the head, the jugular region and in the horse's armpits and extremities. The temperature of the water is not too critical as long as it is not freezing cold and as long as you repeatedly sponge the large blood vessels.
You can also soak towels in water and then drape the towels over the horse's head and neck. Add more water as the towels start to dry.
One thing to be very careful about: do not use water on the large muscle groups of the back and hindquarters. If these groups of large muscles are cooled too rapidly, the blood vessels and capillary beds will immediately constrict away from the surface of the horse's skin. Then they can't dissipate heat, and they will retain metabolic by-products that need to be carried away from the muscles.
A veterinarian who was checking horses on an endurance ride observed that there was a difference in cooling-off times between horses who had water put on their heads, jugular veins and legs and those who had water poured over their entire bodies.
The body temperature of this last group of horses continued to rise for several more minutes before it started to come down. The horses who had water poured only on their heads, jugular veins and legs exhibited lower temperatures, lower heart rates and lower respiratory rates in a much shorter period of time.
Another problem with applying cold water to the large muscle groups is that this can cause "tying up." The muscles will cramp and spasm and the horse will suffer severe pain and distress.
If you must work during the dog days of summer, at least be aware of these cooling-off procedures.
Then find someone to drape a few cool, damp towels over you while someone else pours the juleps over crushed ice.