Summer horse health risks and tips

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There’s nothing quite like that moment when you know that it’s finally summer, is there? Our horses know it too and we love that unbeatable buzz from getting out while the weather’s perfect and the days are long. As ever, keeping them healthy and in good shape is crucial to avoiding illness and injury, and with a little help from our horse health experts we’ve rounded up some key topics to keep abreast of maintaining your horse’s condition over summer. Here’s to a long and safe summer ahead, however you choose to spend it.

Horse health news: Image of horses hooves on hard ground

Hard ground and hoof care

When a horse’s hoof strikes the ground the impact creates high frequency vibrations and concussive forces that are dissipated through the soft tissues of the hoof and up the horse’s limb. The horse-hoof-ground interaction is dependent upon many different factors: the hoof conformation and balance, shoeing, studs, the type of horse, your horse’s musculoskeletal health, nutrition and fitness. The ground reaction forces are also dependent upon the speed that the horse is travelling and the type of surface that the horse is travelling upon.

During the summer months the hard ground increases these concussive forces and can result in problems within the lower limb either through the accumulative effects of repetitive strain resulting in foot soreness and concussive injuries, such as osteoarthritis or tendinitis. Hard ground can also increase the risks of the acute overloading of a limb and an acute traumatic injury (such as a fracture).

Keep an eye out for signs of hoof pain (if you’re not riding on artificial surfaces). This can include solar bruising, reduced performance, discomfort and lameness, and other tell-tale signs of concussion such as the development of splints.

Like our own fingernails, the dry weather can also lead to a dry and brittle hoof horn. Cracks, splits and chips may develop within the destabilising hoof wall, and if they run deep they can result in inflammation and points of entry for infection.

What to look for:

  • • Uneven shoe wear
  • • Foot soreness and bruising
  • • Horse feels unbalanced
  • • Reduced performance and lameness
  • • Splints

What you can do:

  • • Treat any hoof imbalance, ensure your horse has regular farrier visits and make sure they are shod appropriately taking into account the individual and the type of work they are doing
  • • Ask your vet or farrier to assess the depth of any cracks and repair them when they first appear
  • • If you are jumping on grass be sure to check the ground quality while you are walking the course (particularly take-offs and landings)
  • • If your horse has brittle hooves apply hoof moisturiser daily and consider feeding a hoof supplement
  • • If it rains on hard ground the surface can become slippery and studs may be required

Coping with the heat

Heatstroke, dehydration and electrolyte imbalance are big things to watch our for as the temperatures rise this summer. A 500kg horse usually drinks 12-40 litres of water a day, but during hot weather horses can consume more than double their normal daily intake.

Dehydration not only affects your horse’s performance, it can be life-threatening. As a horse dehydrates, they lose the ability to effectively regulate their body temperature and as it rises they risk suffering from heat exhaustion. They sweat less and their sweat thickens when dehydrated, and as a result the horse’s respiratory rate increases. Heat exhaustion can turn into heatstroke if the horse’s body temperature rises to 160ºF which can lead to irreversible damage to enzymes and affect biochemical pathways within the body. The brain is one of the first organs to be affected, and changes in behaviour or neurological signs may develop.

Electrolytes are also essential for maintaining your horse’s correct fluid balance and are important for normal body functions; deficiencies can lead to problems like azoturia (tying up). Electrolytes are lost through sweat, urine and faeces and during training in hot weather these losses can be significant. You may need to add additional electrolytes to either the horse’s water or feed.

How to spot the signs of thermal stress:

  • • Increased heart rate
  • • Weak or irregular pulse
  • • Rapid respiratory rate
  • • Increased body temperature

What to do to help:

  • • Cool them with water
  • • Walk them
  • • Offer them water
  • • Place them in a well ventilated stable
  • • Monitor their temperature
  • • Contact your vet if they aren’t improving

How to help keep them safe:

  • • Always ensure there’s fresh, clean water and plenty of shade when they’re turned out, and if they’re turned out with other horses make sure there are several water sources in case of field bullies
  • • A light UV reflective fly rug can help keep your horse cool (especially if they have a dark coat)
  • • After riding on a hot day, hose your horse down with cool water
  • • Add electrolytes to their water
  • • Provide a salt lick for your horse (or add a little to their daily feed)
  • • When travelling with your horse always make sure all vents and windows are open, and carry more water than you need in case you breakdown or are delayed
  • • It’s not just you who needs to stay cool at competitions! If they are reluctant to drink while away from home consider adding some apple juice to their water
  • • If your horse has a long winter coat speak to your vet about Cushing’s syndrome and consider clipping them
  • • Ensure your horse is fit for purpose
  • • Know your horse’s normal body temperature

Strangles

While summer means competition time it also means an increased risk of transmitted diseases like strangles when they come into contact with other horses at competitions. The strangles bacteria is easily spread; an infected horse may have a temperature, nasal discharge, depression, loss of appetite, discomfort in their throat and abscesses around their head and throat – the common hallmarks of the disease – though a horse can spread the disease before the appearance of any symptoms and even healthy looking horses can be carriers.

To reduce the risks of infection try and avoid contact with other horses at competitions, do not allow your horse to share water with horses from other yards and do not share stable equipment if your horse is staying away from home. If in any doubt, consult your vet.

Summer flies

It’s the common bugbear in summer for riders and horses alike. Flies can cause eye problems like conjunctivitis and sores, they can delay wounds healing and spread infection, they irritate skin lesions and it is thought that they may be involved in the spread of sarcoids. Insect bites can cause inflammation, itching and discomfort. During summer months it is best to try and avoid any elective surgical procedures, and it’s worth investing in a good quality fly mask and rug, fly spray and a supply of soothing creams to treat any nasty bites. Consider stabling your horse at times when the flies are particularly troublesome. For horses that are particularly sensitive to flies, speak to your vet as prescription fly repellents are available.

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