It’s looking like a scorcher this weekend in Lexington, KY as many riders are preparing to compete at MayDaze HT. Temperatures are expected to be in the 90s, with noticeable humidity. Since it’s only May, many horses and riders may not be acclimated to such heat yet. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you prepare to compete in the upcoming summer weather.
Drink lots of water! Have plenty of water available for both you and your horse. Gatorade is fine, too, if it keeps you drinking (and yes, horses like Gatorade too! If you don’t have any Horse Quencher around). I’ve been the victim of dehydration before– it was a busy, hot day grooming for five horses and attempting to ride two of my own, and I kept saying to myself, “I’ll get a bottle of water later, I’m too busy right now.” Don’t do that– unless you want a trip to the ER for IV fluids. Drink before you think you are thirsty; you can’t take care of your horse if you’re sick. Have snacks and food on hand, as well–fruit is great on a hot day– you may not really feel like eating, but it’s important to have fuel for your body to burn.
Start hydrating now. Drink plenty of water leading up to the event, and be sure that your horse does as well. This is especially important if you will be traveling a good distance, and your horse may not drink as well on the trailer. Consider adding electrolytes to his diet now, and you might want to have some electrolyte paste on hand for the event. I also like to add water to the grain, making it soupy or sloppy just to get a little more water in their bellies.
Have plenty of water and/or ice available for cool-down after riding. Sponge water on, and quickly scrape it off as it will warm up and trap body heat against the skin. Walk the horse in a shady area if at all possible. You may wish to add some rubbing alcohol to your sponge buckets, this will evaporate quickly off the horse and help the cooling process. Have your buckets, sponges, scrapers, and a halter/leadrope waiting at the finish of xc to cool out immediately if you expect to run in extreme heat.
Know your horse and plan accordingly. If your horse is fit for his level, he should be okay to handle hot weather, but it may require some thoughtful riding on your part. Shorten your warmup time; he’ll probably get tired more quickly in the heat, and your normal 45-minute dressage warmup could be too much. Likewise, try not to get to show-jumping warmup too early, only to stand around in the sun or get tempted into jumping a hundred warmup fences. Your horse’s welfare should be first and foremost, even if it means you don’t quite have the competitive edge you hoped for. I’d rather be a little underprepared for my test but have a “fresh” horse for the next phase, rather than wear my horse out and be stressed wishing I hadn’t done too much.
Similarly, know your limits. If your horse is feeling distressed, adjust accordingly. Slow down on cross-country, and don’t worry about making the time if he starts to struggle. Or if things are really falling apart, it may be better to just call it a day. Keep in mind how YOU are riding: is the heat starting to get to you? Is your body feeling sluggish, weak, or your mind isn’t making good decisions? Don’t endanger your horse and yourself if YOU are not 100% out there; pull up and save yourself for another day. The heat affects us all differently, but physical and mental weakness is quite common when suffering from heat exhaustion.
Riding in the heat is certainly no fun, and can be dangerous without proper precautions. Keep this in mind when schooling at home– while we’d all much rather ride in the cool morning or late evening, it might be smart to train occasionally in the heat of the day, as you may find yourself competing in that atmosphere. It is helpful to know going into an event how you and your horse can best deal with excessive heat, and to know when it is just too much.
For more on how to beat the heat, check out these articles from TheHorse.com: