Intense exercise or work can cause a horse to overheat, leading to heat exhaustion, heat stroke, or even signs of abdominal pain (colic). Proper care for a horse after hard work and exercise, including cooling, is always important.
A normal rectal temperature for horses ranges from 98 – 100 degrees. Generally, a horse is in danger of developing heat exhaustion or stroke if their rectal temperature rises above 104 degrees. The higher the temperature, the more aggressive treatment is needed.
First, take the time to end your ride or exercise program with a slow walk, gradually allowing your horse to naturally cool down under saddle. Dismount, remove all tack and groom your horse lightly.
Next, allow your horse to drink fresh cool water. If they are very thirsty, allow them to drink 1/2 gallon (2 liters) of fresh cool water, then wait for 60 seconds before offering more. Administration of oral paste electrolytes can be helpful to stimulate drinking. Offer both electrolyte water and fresh cool water.
When appropriate, run cold water over your horse's legs and body until their temperature returns to normal. Use a scraper to remove water and sweat easily. Horses that can move should be transported to a cool and shady area. Fans are of some value. Misting fans are even more helpful, especially in humid climates.
Do not run very cold water over your horse's body immediately after intense exercise. This can cause the blood vessels in the muscles to contract, slowing down the cooling down process and increasing the possibility of tying-up and cramping.
Tips for safety & Success
Contact your vet in the case of severe overheating, which must be addressed immediately, to prevent life-threatening heat stroke.
It is always best to prevent overheating your horse in the first place. If you live in a warm climate, ensure that your training program and tack is adequately tailored to your horse, the temperature and weather. You may also consider clipping your horse. Do not stall confine your horse immediately after intense exercise; it is very important to allow them to gradually cool down in movement.
Rubbing alcohol pulls heat from the body but it also dries the skin, so only give your horse an alcohol bath infrequently, and dilute it with water.
Ice or ice packs may be packed around a horse's body and between their legs. Packing ice in a horse's rectum should only be used in cases of life threatening high temperature and when other means of cooling are insufficient.