Hot topic: keep your cool at warm weather events
Long, hot summer days may be great for fans, but high temperatures are a challenge for competitors. We ask the experts how riders and horses can keep their cool
A good eventing horse will always give their all, even if they’re struggling. It’s up to the rider to watch out for the signs that their horse is feeling the heat. Look out for the following:
- Are their reaction times slower than normal?
- Are they clumsier or making uncharacteristic mistakes?
- Are they running with their head down, rather than upwards and forwards?
- Are your reins a little longer and you need to kick a little more?
- Are they sweatier than normal, riding flat or lagging a little?
We caught up with several experts to find out how they keep their cool in the heat.
Harry Meade’s Head Girl, Jess Errington
What can you do to stop a horse overheating on a hot day?
Plenty of shade and access to plenty of water throughout the day is important and if you’re riding, try to ride early before it gets to the peak of the day, when it gets too hot, or late. If you can, reduce your riding time too.
You can get fans to put in the stables when weather is really humid. Also, make sure there’s plenty of electrolytes in their feed or water because they’re going to sweat and the electrolytes will replace the salts.
How can you cool them if they do begin to overheat?
I keep them walking, however tired they are – I don’t like them coming back and standing still and having water. They need to get their heart rate and their temperature down. If there is any shade or trees, I get them walking under there.
We use plastic jugs rather than sponges to wash them. I find jugs of water get on to the horse better. Rather than chucking it on, we run the water down their spine so it just covers their back and cools them more.
Is there anything you can do to prepare a horse for high temperatures before an event?
If you’re going to a three-day event and you know it’s going to be hot, clip them a week or two before. If they’ve got a coat, they’re going to get much hotter. Little things like using a shaped numnah rather than a big square, or getting one that’s thin material – you don’t want really thick, heavy material while you’re going cross country in the heat – all help.
If you’re going abroad, you’d need to acclimatise them beforehand – that can be done by working in exercise sheets and rugs. When you’re cantering them, you can ride in the peak of the day on purpose and build them up to dealing with the temperatures.
How do you transport your horses safely in the heat?
Make sure all the windows and everything is open; that always makes a difference. But if you’re lucky enough to have fans on your lorry, turn them on. Travel can be difficult, but try and transport horses when it’s not boiling hot, take their rugs off and give them access to water while you’re on your journey.
Is there anything a rider can do to avoid overheating?
It sounds silly but try to be as light as possible. Harry always goes on a bit of a diet before a big three-day event so he can help the horse as much as he can from a weight point of view – not that he needs to. Any extra weight a horse doesn’t have to carry with them when they gallop and jump can make a big difference on a hot day.
If it’s particularly warm ahead of a cross country, before they go we put some water on the horse so they’re washed off. We put water over their haunches and their neck so they’re not going while they’re already sweating.
International riders Emma and Kevin McNab
When it comes to competing horses in high temperatures, we’ve had a lot of experience coming from Australia. We all love a nice warm day for an event, but it can be a challenge. The horses get hot, tired and sweaty, plus you have the added worry of dehydration and your horse’s limbs and feet on firm going.
It’s important to cool them down after competing and cold water is great, but we have a secret weapon when it comes to helping cool our horses and making them as comfortable as possible.
When we are at an event and the horses have finished cross country, we add some Absorbine® CoolDownTM to the buckets of water. It’s a completely natural, herbal body wash that helps gently cool them, as well as refreshing and soothing their muscles – and it conditions their coat. It’s so easy to use because you don’t need to rinse it off.
We’re always mindful of the horse’s feet on hard ground and never go to a competition without Absorbine® Magic Cushion® because it quickly reduces any heat in the hoof. We always use this after the cross country or any time when the horses run on going that is firm. We use it a lot in the hotter months to make sure the horse’s feet aren’t sore.
Norton Disney organiser, Joe Weller
Before competition starts, we always reinforce the importance of everyone working on-site to look out for flagging horses.
All the fence judges need to be aware of looking for tired horses. That becomes quite paramount through the day so everyone is aware of exhaustion at certain times.
Looking out for the key indicators (listed above) can make all the difference if a horse begins to struggle in the heat and can avoid them overheating or making a mistake when taking on a challenging fence.
On a hot day we’d have ice on standby – as much as we can get and store. We’ll also have watering facilities on the course straight after they finish. You also need to make sure you have a stable free for a horse to recover and be monitored if they need it. We’d also make ice available for them there.
The spare stable is crucial too if the event is taking place at a course where shade is at a premium.
It’s important to make the best of what a venue can offer. Regular water troughs are helpful and depending on budget, there are various other tools that can be called upon, such as misters.
Originally published in a feature in British Eventing Life magazine Summer 2021