Heat stress or exhaustion or stroke is no joke. As a sufferer of heat stroke myself, I completely understand people’s intolerance of the heat. Especially now that monsoon season came early for Las Vegas (it usually hits around late August/early September), the heat index hasn’t lessened one bit, but the humidity certainly has been on the rise. Usually when it’s 110 outside, the humidity is around 10-12%. Now, it’s 110 outside with 20% humidity and a time of day that usually brings the winds now has practically no breeze. It won’t even get below 100* until about 9 or 10 at night. Mornings are the best time to ride as is usual for most places.
This heat has really been kicking my butt the longer this heat/humidity thing goes on. I know it’s especially unbearable for all of you guys with the temperatures up and the humidity being MUCH greater than 20%. But for me, I can’t ride in the mornings. Most of my work days start at 6 am, so my only option if I want to ride is in the afternoon – when it’s basically hell lol. While it is a question of whether we should even ride when it’s that hot, for me NOT riding isn’t an option. Even though my episode of heat stroke has really affected my heat tolerance now, I know that if I ever plan to show or even manage to just hack around in Vegas, my horse and I HAVE to be able to ride in these extreme temperatures.
So what can we do to beat the intolerable heat this summer seems to have plagued everywhere? I have seen a lot of helpful tips on keeping our equine partners safe and helping them tolerate the heat. But what about YOU – the rider? In my opinion, the rider is absolutely just as important than the horse. Why? Because if I’m not taking care of myself, how can I efficiently and effectively take care of my horse? If I am tired or too hot or dead on my feet I may miss something that I otherwise wouldn’t have had I been feeling better. This may or may not help those of you, but I’d like to share the things I do to help Amber feel as good as she can and how I take care of myself through the hot months.
For the horse:
These tips won’t be anything new than many other articles on helping your horse tolerate the heat, but these are the things I do for Amber (and Whisper too!). First, I always have a full bucket of cool water in the arena. Our bucket in the arena IS in direct sunlight, but we are lucky enough to have our water source come from a well, and the water is nice and cool from underground if we have to dump hot water and refill it. On days when Whisper is working hard, whenever we have a break in “work” I’ll take her over to the water bucket to drink. Even if she doesn’t, it’s still offered and available. Even though Amber and I are just walking, I did this for her last summer when we were in full work, and the girls have gotten very used to drinking water if they’re thirsty. At one point Amber almost dragged be to the bucket after a morning walk!
Second, sometimes I will sponge Amber off before a ride – especially if it’s nice and breezy since that will help her stay cooler. Otherwise I always hose her off afterwards and immediately have a fan on her. The water that runs to our barn is much hotter than the water that goes to the arena – we accidentally miscalculated how deep to dig the trench for the water pipes, so it’s shallower and the water is consequently much hotter. I’ll throw the hose on and let it run for as long as it’ll take me to untack, then hose Amber down. Even if the water is still hotter than I’d like, the fans help to cool off the water on her skin almost immediately (I also always put my hand against her to make sure it feels cool).
Third, both horses are usually fed their grain around noon-ish, and on those hotter than hot days I’ll throw in some electrolytes. They both love the cherry flavored crystal/powder, but some horses won’t eat it and the paste electrolytes are very easy to use as well. There are even ones you can put in their water to encourage them to drink. I personally don’t have a preference of which one works better or whatnot, but I do use the powder since it’s cheaper in the long run and my horse will eat it that way. Whisper does pretty well on the electrolytes that go in the water as well as the powder. As well as electrolytes, if the horses are working very hard I do supplement with magnesium. Amber is a HUGE sweater, and sometimes they can even sweat out magnesium if they sweat hard enough. Magnesium aids in muscle relaxation, and when the horses were in difficult work I noticed the magnesium helped them feel better. This summer, Amber has been in relatively no work, and Whisper light work, so we haven’t been using the magnesium hardly at all.
Fourth – they always have fans on. Our last barn had misters and I’d love to have some misters here AND fans but I don’t know if that’s feasible for us at the moment. Amber loved her misters, and she loves her fans. Always standing in front of at least one of them. Whisper is a funny horse and has 2 16 gallon water buckets – during the heat of the day she drinks the inside bucket and at night she drinks from the outside bucket in her run. Amber only has 1 bucket, but we fill that about 2x a day – that girl certainly drinks! Other than that the girls have been here for a while and are pretty accustomed to the oven-hell that is summer in the desert (altho thankfully it’s not AZ where it’s 123 and your tires blow just from driving over 40 on the road).
So now – on to the rider!
Unfortunately I am……way more high maintenance than Amber haha. But in order for me to stay cool and not have a heat stress headache and regular “blah” feeling, there’s a lot I have to do.
First my clothing. Cooling breeches and shirts are my go-to for summer. I will actually overheat even in a simple T-shirt so I’ve been slowly accruing more and more sunshirts haha. My 3 fav brands are Kerrits, Kastel and Ariat (although my new Noble Outfitters shirt is working its way to the top) – those shirts absolutely keep me the coolest. I wear cooling tech breeches – Ovation Aqua X are my usual go-tos with the Horze Grand Prix breeches coming in a close second. The fabric on those is very similar to the Aqua X and I love them. I even have tech undergarments – Champion c9 sport wicking undies and the Champion c9 sports bras. With my short sleeve tech shirts I wear the Kerrits sleeves and Roeckl chester summer gloves – the mesh on the back of the hand keeps them cool while still having that great Roeckl grip. I also wear the Ovation schooling helmet, which is light blue in color to help reflect the sun and has a LOT of vents to help keep my head cool.
One of the most difficult things about summer in the desert is that your sweat evaporates almost immediately. A lot of the cooling clothing uses your own sweat so that a breeze catches it and cools your skin. Because of this, I have to “make my own sweat” if you will. I will actually hose myself down – my arms, chest, upper back, neck and head. My head does sweat, but by adding the extra water and making it extra damp, it ensures that the breeze going through the vents of my helmet helps keep my brain cooler. I probably look like a wet rat but hey – I’m a lot cooler haha.
While the clothing helps, it’s what I put into my body that does the most. Dizziness is one of the first signs for me that my body is feeling the heat, so I try to keep an eye out on that. Gatorade-water or smart/electrolyte water works the best for me. I usually buy the mid-size G2s and grab a large water jug and pour it in with some ice. I’ll put one or two in there depending on the size. Once the Gatorade fills the jug half-way, I fill the rest with water. With the Gatorade this way, I am not suddenly throwing a high volume of electrolytes into my body and throwing it off. It replenishes my body slowly, and I am also getting water at the same time. It lessens the too-sweet taste as well but is still tasty enough for me to want to drink it to help myself drink. I usually do this even though I also really like the Smart/electrolyte water. The Gatorade is a bit cheaper and I can make “twice as much” when I’m mixing it.
Next is blood sugar. I get very dizzy, extremely lethargic and very cotton-mouthed when my blood sugar starts to dip down too much. This also makes me even more susceptible to heat stress, so I’m always bringing food with me. When I worked at a barn during the summer as a teenager in high school, I was pretty ignorant about the heat in terms of stress/exhaustion/stroke. However, I was out there usually from 5 in the morning to around noon-ish, and learned that packing myself food helped me a LOT. So I’d pack myself a giant jug of water, some type of fruit that was juicy but also had natural sugars (watermelon is my fav for that), an energy/protein shake and a Gatorade. The protein shake provided energy and calories, but wasn’t a heavy food in my stomach like a sandwich or even a salad. Not a lot of that has changed now haha. Watermelon is great because it’s very watery, not too sweet, but can help raise your blood sugar when you’re feeling faint. I don’t need the energy or protein shakes anymore since I am not outside for 7-ish hours – usually around 2-3 hours at the barn now. I’ve changed the shakes to a small gel pack that I’d throw in a cooler when we boarded elsewhere, and that I keep in the freezer now that we have the horses at the house. I will periodically grab the pack and place it on my head as I’m finishing up at the barn. Since my hair is still wet from water and sweat, the gel pack immediately cools it and REALLY cools off my brain to prevent the headaches and heat stress.
I’ve come to recognize the signs my body tries to tell me about how well I’m dealing with the heat. My head is a big factor for me – even just a little bit of overheating or not doing all of these steps sometimes and I get a horrible headache. Dizziness or being slightly faint clues me in that I’m not doing enough, and that if I don’t do something soon, I’ll have to go through cold showers and ice packs to get my body temperature down ASAP. Most of the time though I’ll just feel a bit out of breath because the heat is sapping my energy, but I’m usually doing what I need to so I don’t feel dizzy or faint.
All of this allows me to cope with the heat the best way I can, and to also feel as good as I can so I can take care of my horse. It’s a bit tough to keep track of it all, but I’ve gotten into a rhythm with it that it really doesn’t take me too long to prepare any of these things. Plus, if it helps me avoid the ER to get more fluids than I’m all for it haha!
I’m looking into grabbing one of these from RW too. It’ll probably dry out very quickly since the evaporation is so high here, but it might be just what I need to keep my core temperature even cooler! I’m usually pretty good for the majority of rides – it’s closer to when I’m done and finishing up that I need extra help in keeping my body temperature down. We’ll see how it goes!
What about you guys? How do you guys keep yourself cool in the dead of summer? What do you do to combat the heat stress for both you and your horse?