I recently competed in a horse trial on a day when the forecast was for temperatures near 100˚F. And my horse isn’t exactly known for his sweating skills. So we put on a full scale action plan to manage horse, rider, and conditions. Here are some of our observations about what can be done by the rider, the trainer, and the show host to help in challenging summer conditions.
- Body clip — Consider giving your horse a full body clip to help them stay cooler on a super hot day. To prepare, give your horse’s coat some significant conditioning. We used SantaFe Conditioner daily for about a week to really get Charlie’s hair slick and soft, which made it easier for the clippers to glide through.
- Supplements — My horse has trouble sweating, so we have him on a regular regimen of OneAC. Obviously this requires you to start well in advance. And a conversation with your trainer and vet are well advised. But the results can be incredibly effective.
- Drinking water — When shopping for my trailer, a barn friend said his best piece of advice was to be sure to get a water tank. We did, and it has allowed us to go places without fear of running out of water, or not having it at all. If you don’t have a tank in your trailer, consider getting 5 gallon containers from a local water service. Offer drinking water to your horse often. Let him drink, but remember to not let him over-drink.
- Linament and a sweat scraper — Put your linament of choice in a spray bottle. Then when your horse is hot, give him a spritz, and scrape the warm liquid off. This will keep him cool and fresh. We put the goods in a small bucket, and had one of our crew carry it with it to each phase of our horse trial.
- Bucket of ice water and sponges — For more intensive cooling, sponge your horse off with ice water, especially on the chest, and on the veins that appear between his rear legs. Remember, when veins pop to the surface, that is your horse’s body’s way of sending his blood closer to the surface so it can cool. Your chilled water will help move that process along. We used a small cooler with a wide handle, which was more comfortable to carry, and kept our water super cold for longer.
- Fan for your stall — If you take a stall at a show, a standard 20″ box fan from Target or WalMart will do a great job of providing some air movement in an otherwise stagnant stall. Remember to get a hanger so you can sling your fan in the right spot. If you forget your hanger, a hay net will also do the trick. You will need to turn it off overnight for safety reasons. But they will earn their keep during the day for sure.
- Tech fabrics — On a blistering day, tech fabrics are a mandatory modern miracle. Where possible, use a tech fabric for your saddle pad. It will dry much faster, and be much more comfortable for your horse.
- Hydrating treats — Remember to bring a big bag of carrots or apples as a way to rehydrate your horse. You can also feed your steed things like pineapple and watermelon, which are also very full of water.
- Tech fabrics — They’re not just for your horse! You sweat, the fabric wicks the sweat away, and it dries faster than you can think about it. Not only does it keep you cooler, it’s a lot more comfortable.
- Change of clothes — There’s nothing nastier than standing around in sweaty, soggy clothes. So don’t! Bring a change of clothes so you can dry out between phases. Remember to bring shirts and socks for sure. Consider bringing a fresh pair of breeches and underwear if you have a place to change. And a pair of shorts to drive home in are a great idea.
- Cooling rag — There are now tech fabrics that you douse in cold water, and drape around your neck. You can theoretically wear them during your competition phases, but I’m always afraid it will come flopping off in the middle of my course, so I don’t. But they’re certainly a great option for mopping my face and neck just before and after a phase.
- Drinks — Water, Gatorade, whatever! Obviously not the alcoholic kind (they just dehydrate you anyway). Just drink, and drink a lot. If you get tired of plain water, look for flavor packets you can add to a 16oz bottle of water to make lemonade, tea, etc. You will be sweating this off pretty quickly, especially during the exertion of a show, regardless of discipline.
- Water laden snacks — Oranges, clementines, watermelon, mango, pineapple, cucumber… Lots of fruits and vegetables are packed with water. And when you get sick of drinking liquids, perhaps a hydrating snack will do the trick. And you can share with your horse.
- Cool your pressure points — If you start to get overheated, put your wrists in a bucket of ice water, and put a rag that has been wet in that same ice water over the back of your neck. These points will help your body cool down more quickly.
- Tent and chairs — Consider putting up a canopy tent beside your trailer with a place for tired riders and trainers to sit and catch their breath, out of the direct sun. Look at an additional side wall panel to provide a curtain effect for when the sun gets low.
- Sunscreen and bug spray — The last thing you need when you’re headed out for your cross country course is to have your skin prickly from sunburn or bug bites. Remember to reapply frequently. On a hot day, you’ll sweat off more of your protective lotions than you know, even the sport varieties.
- Cooling vest — I haven’t personally tried this one, but I’m admittedly curious. HyperKewl makes a vest that is submerged in water, squeezed out, wiped off, and worn over the rider’s clothes. Its special fabric reacts with the water to create a cooling effect for several hours.
- Communication — Use e-mail and social media to let entrants know what the plan is for your show, and what resources you are providing. It’s only fair that if you expect riders to provide something themselves, they should know in advance so they can plan accordingly. And continue to offer electronic updates throughout the event. Don’t assume people will hear every PA announcement at the show.
- Shade — Let people know if they can set up tents beside their trailers. These become essential for providing a shady spot for tired riders, trainers, and others. Also provide cooling stations where horses can get out of the sun and stand in front of a fan.
- Fans — If you are providing stabling, be sure that each stall has an outlet where a fan can be plugged in. If you offer cooling stations for horses, fans are a key part of that equation.
- Water for bathing — Where possible, provide water for sponging and bathing horses competing at your event, even if you can’t provide drinking water. Get creative if you need to. One show recently hired a truck that fills swimming pools. It was big, it carried water, and the water was good enough to sop down hot, sticky horses.
- Jackets — Be realistic about excusing jackets. No one needs to have a heatstroke because of wardrobe choices. If it’s a recognized show, remember that if jackets are excused, neck wear must also be removed, and the shirt collar should be work open, like a collared shirt.