I was walking my dog early this morning to avoid the heat and I noticed a field of lovely horses of all different varieties, shapes and sizes, all clustered under one small tree. It was already getting warmer and on closer inspection , in fact I scoured the whole field. they were doing their best to stay cool because the water supply they had was totally inadequate. Now taking aside the care of these particular horses , which I can assure you I will be dealing with. I wondered how many other well meaning owners were assuming their horses were ok in summer.
People seem to assume horses will be fine in summer and only worry about them in winter, but horses overheat easily. Dogs, cats, and even horses with sparse hair and light colored hair and skin are more likely to get sun related diseases. Sunburn is as painful in animals just as it is in people. It is recommended to keep your pet or horse out of the sun especially during the summer from 10 am to 4 pm. Horses can be protected in a barn and even a shade tree can really help. But the point is that they do need some protection from the sun.
Many cancers can affect the skin of animals and most come with too much sun exposure. Sunscreen can be used on animals but may be difficult to apply if they are hairy. Also, you must be careful the pet does not lick the sunscreen, as it could be bad for them. There are even sun suits available for your pet to prevent sun burn, although the pet may get hot in these or may chew them off.
So there really is no substitute for providing them with the proper shade. The single most important way to help horses in hot weather is to give them easy access to clean, fresh water. Like humans, horses control their temperature through sweating. But sweating leads to dehydration if the water and minerals aren't replaced. The safest solution is to install plenty of troughs and keep them full, as shallow water is sometimes hard to reach for smaller horses or ponies.
Choosing self filling troughs is the easiest, option but can be expensive. Whatever the solution owners need to ensure the water is clean and that horses are drinking it. You can also turn horses out only in the evening, keeping them stabled in the day during summer, to minimize exposure to blazing sun and flies. But this only works if the stables are cool and well ventilated, otherwise they can quickly become far too hot.
Keeping them in a really airless wooden stable isn't the answer; they will just as easily fry in there. But brick or concrete stables are much cooler. All this calls for is a bit of common sense. If you would get hot closed in there then so will they. The other thing I wanted to mention is that you may also be unaware that there is another potentially serious illness in horses that can easily be confused with straightforward sunburn, and that's Photosensitization.
Photosensitization is a long word for what can be a serious skin condition. It looks like sunburned, crusty skin that can die and fall or rub, off. It is usually caused by a reaction to something the horse has eaten. However the skin problem doesn't appear until the horse is exposed to sunlight. Three things can cause photosensitization.
First, there can be a photo activating substance in the horse's skin, second it can be caused by exposure to UV light, and thirdly it can be caused by lack of skin pigment, which enables more light to penetrate the skin. Removing the horse from the sun will give them immediate relief. Exposure to the sun causes a chemical reaction in the skin which can be painful. Affected horses can be turned out at night and kept out of direct sunlight during the day. Depending on how bad the skin damage and loss is, it can a long time for them to get better. Many horses with light skin can get sunburned.
If your horse develops severe skin blisters and open wounds after exposure to the sun, it's always wise to seek advice from your veterinarian to find out the cause. Humans are constantly reminded by dermatologists about exposure to the sun and the risk of skin damage and cancer. Although you may not have ever considered it before, our pets can also be susceptible to diseases related to too much sun. So next time you see an animal that is not sufficiently protected, have a care, and even at the risk of some verbal abuse, let the owner know, as diplomatically as possible, that they could do better.
Roger Bourdon's aim is to bring the joys of horseback riding to everyone with his books and website at http://anyhorsebackriding.com where you can get really cool free hints and tips on learning to horseback ride.