It’s getting HOT out, folks. And show season is here. That means taking extra steps to keep our horses comfortable and performing their best. Here are seven of my summer show season tips.
Okay, okay. Summer isn’t ACTUALLY here yet. But it sure feels that way. Here in the Midwest/Mid-Atlantic/Rustbelt/Appalachian Ridge/Whatever You Want To Call Western and Central Pennsylvania, it’s been HOT. Unseasonably so. And it’s been dry. Unseasonably so. Therefore, we’re in full summer show season routine.
I compete in Cowboy Mounted Shooting. That means I ask my horse to run multiple stages in one day, and a bunch of stages in a weekend. Although I always take steps to make sure my horse is happy, healthy, and comfortable, when it’s hot out, I take extra steps to ensure her well being.
Here are some of the steps I take to keep my horse comfortable when I’m asking her to perform when the temperature begins to climb:
1. Location, Location, Location
Most of the places where I show have fairly nice stall set ups in barns with a lot of ventilation. Even so, I try to make sure I have a stall that has as much airflow as possible. So I usually look for one on an exterior wall of the barn and at the end of an aisle way if I can. This allows for airflow from multiple directions (and gives my busy mare plenty of ways to entertain herself as a bonus).
Speaking of airflow, I always make sure I pack a box fan when I know it’s going to be hot. Even though I try to choose a stall with plenty of airflow, barns still get stagnant. And stalls get hot. So I try to offer my mare as much comfort as possible. The SmartPak Fan Bag is an easy way to hang the box fan no matter where I go.
3. A Well-Paced Warm Up
This is essential in the heat. I always like to make sure my mare’s body and brain are ready to compete. In the warmer months, I really try to make sure I don’t overdo it because I don’t want to wear her out with a long, hot day ahead of us. So I walk and long trot her until she feels loose and supple and then I do some canter work in both directions. As soon as I see that she is with me and moving comfortably, we call it quits, walk out for a little cool down, and exit the warm up pen. Although people have different approaches to warming up their horses, when it’s hot out, I try to make sure my horse in conserving her energy for the competition ring.
4. Cool Hose Downs
This is an absolute must at the end of a competition day. If I can swing it, I like to do this between stages, but often there isn’t enough time to manage it. When I do hose down my horse, I make sure to fully soak her body, paying extra attention to her hocks, knees and fetlocks, as well as the warmer areas like her chest, between her legs, and around her girth area. Under normal circumstances, getting a hose down isn’t on my mare’s list of top 10 activities, but after a long competition day, you can tell she truly appreciates the extra attention. If I’m not giving her a full bath, I like to spray her down with Vigor Power Wash. It’s a green liniment spray made from camphor, oil of sassafras,oil of wintergreen, oil of cedarwood, oil of rosemary, oil of thyme, and juniper oil. It really helps cool her down and keeps those muscles and joints feeling good.
After I’ve hosed my horse and let her dry, I will often apply poultice to her legs. Usually I put it on from the hocks down on the hind legs and the knees down on the front legs. I change what poultice I use depending on the conditions and how I think my mare is feeling, but one of my favorites is Sore No-More® Performance Poultice. I like this one because it is 100% herbal and nonirritating, making it safe to use for extended periods of time with no negative effects. It’s also good for sensitive-skinned horses, which is an added bonus (after all, I have a red Thoroughbred mare).
6. A Sufficient Cool Down
I believe a good cool down is just as important as a good warm up. This is even more true when it’s hot out. Whether I’m on my horse’s back or hand walking, I like to make sure her heart rate and respiration are normal before I put her back in her stall. In general, I think this makes for a calmer, more relaxed horse, and it’s a good way to make sure she came out of her run still healthy.
I am diligent about making sure my horses always have clean, fresh water. This does not just apply to shows or high temps. This is an always and forever thing. But it’s also really important when I know that my horse’s stress and activity levels are elevated. Even though my mare hauls well and tends to be at her best at shows, there’s no denying that competitions add stress to a horse’s life. Therefore, I want to make sure mine is drinking plenty and often. This keeps her organs functioning and helps prevent colic. My mare is a good drinker (thank goodness!), but I’ve had ones that aren’t. To encourage water consumption, I like to add electrolytes to my horses’ feed when I show. A great option is SmartLytes. It comes in both a powdered and pelleted forms.
The benefit of electrolytes is that they can can help supply the sodium chloride your horse needs, in addition to the other electrolyte minerals that are lost in sweat — potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Supplying these electrolytes will encourage your horse to drink more water, rebalancing his fluids and helping to ensure proper digestion of feeds.
What are your summer show season must-dos? Let us know in the Facebook comments!
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