Equine Welfare and Heat Precautions

What can you do with your horse when it’s too hot to ride? Good news: you can still work on your physical therapy exercises! Here’s how to keep improving your performance, without raising you or your horse’s heart rate. 

There’s no shame in taking a day off. But you should be ashamed of failing to listen to your horse and overheating your partner. Here’s how to tell when it’s too hot to ride and what you can do instead. 

#equinephysicaltherapy #equestrianpt #listentoyourhorse

How Hot is Too Hot?

There are three important factors to pay attention to when deciding whether it’s too hot to ride: humidity, temperature, and where you’re located. 90 degrees in Maine is very different from 90 degrees in Maryland. 90 degrees is your average summer day in Maryland. But for Mainers, 90 degrees is very very hot. Remember, that your horse needs time to adjust to various weather conditions as well. An extremely hot day for your area is not the best time to ride, regardless of what the weather is typically like in other areas of the nation. 

Additional humidity prevents your horse from cooling down as efficiently. Sweating helps to cool the body by evaporating off the skin and taking body heat with it. Humidity slows down the evaporation process, hindering the body’s natural cooling system. 

Last but definitely not least, is the temperature. While temperature is the main factor in deciding whether or not to ride, it is compounded upon by humidity and location. For example, 85 degrees and 50 percent humidity in Maryland is an average day and not too hot to ride. 95 degrees and 50 percent humidity in Maryland is much too hot. Meanwhile in Maine, 85 degrees and 50 percent humidity is definitely getting up there and probably too hot to ride. 

A good rule of thumb is to add the temperature and humidity together. If those two numbers add up to 130 or above, be cautious and consider changing your riding routine. For example, 95 + 50 = 145, definitely too hot to ride. On the other hand, 85 degrees  +50 percent humidity is only 135.  You could still ride, but should consider riding in the early morning or evening. 

Listen to Your Horse

Whether it’s too hot to ride depends greatly on your horse. Hot-blooded horses such as Arabians or Thoroughbreds are generally much more heat-hardy than their cold-blooded cousin, the Belgian. 

Physical condition also plays a large role. An overweight or out-of-shape horse is going to have a much harder time coping in the heat than one that is in peak condition. If you head to the barn to ride but find your horse sweating in his stall, even with a fan, then it’s too hot to ride. Don’t let yourself be pressured into riding your draft cross just because Suzie Q with her highly-fit ex-racehorse has been practicing her dressage test for the last half hour. 

There’s no shame in taking a day off. But you should be ashamed of failing to listen to your horse and overheating your partner. Don’t worry– taking a day off from moderate to intense riding doesn’t mean you should turn around and go home. Keep reading to find out what you can do when it’s too hot to ride. 

Ridden Exercises

Did you think heat was going to mean you could get away without doing your physical therapy exercises? Think again! Most physical therapy exercises can be done at the halt or walk. If it’s too hot to work on your horse’s physical therapy, work on your own instead. 

If you need to work on finding balance in the saddle, try riding your horse at the walk and working on your “frog legs.” This exercise entails lifting both knees up above the saddle and relaxing them back down. Start with just one leg at a time to get used to the motion. This simple low-intensity exercise helps to center you in the saddle and rock you back on your seat bones.

Try adding a partner into your routine to see how independent your seat is. With your horse at the halt, have one person stand by the horse’s head and hold onto your reins, taking all pressure off of the horse’s mouth. Sitting in the saddle, hold your reins as you would normally and focus on sinking deep into your seat and heels. Your partner on the ground will start to pull on the reins as a horse might. See if you can keep your balance in the saddle without relying on your reins. To increase intensity, have your partner create a bit of a “rodeo,” still being careful not to disturb the horse.

Carrot Stretches

Carrot stretches are a great physical therapy exercise to increase your horse’s condition and flexibility without getting their heart rate up. All your equestrian facility needs is an open space, like an arena or stall. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you could even do these exercises in your horse’s paddock. While you can use any treat, carrots are particularly good for this physical therapy exercise, as the additional length protects your fingers from any misguided teeth. 

Standing at your horse’s rib cage, hold the treat close to your horse’s muzzle and encourage them to stretch their neck back around to their rib cage. Make sure that their ears are mostly even, without a significant diagonal tilt. This stretch encourages them to expand the rib cage on the opposite side. Only hold this position for a few seconds before relaxing. 

You can also use this same technique to encourage your horse to stretch down to the ground. Hold the carrot between their forelegs and allow them to nibble at the end while stretching through their back and down to the ground. Next, stretch towards the sky by guiding them with the carrot up high, as though they were stretching for an apple hanging from a tree. 

Each of these exercises encourages your horse to develop strength and flexibility through their back, core, and rib cage. Let your horse enjoy some yummy treats in the shade, while you sneak some physical therapy exercises into your routine. 

Ground Work

Ground work can be difficult to complete on hot days. Evaluate what you can and can’t do on the ground based on the heat. While the horse doesn’t have to carry the extra weight of a rider, it is still not a good idea to work up their heart rate with endless laps at the canter on a hot day. Instead, focus on what you can do in the shade and at the walk and trot. 

Can you ask your horse to yield their hind end? How about the front end? Many physical therapy exercises can be completed on the ground as well. Don’t underestimate the power of teaching your horse better movement patterns from the ground. You’d be surprised at how well they translate to under saddle!

Talk to Your Physical Therapist

Many Doctors of Physical Therapy can adapt prescribed exercises to be done from the ground. If you’d like to keep working on your performance without increasing heart rate, ask your doctor to adapt the exercises given to you so you can complete them on the ground. 

A physical therapy evaluation can guide your riding routine. Talk to Dr. Shields today to find out what exercises you can work on to improve the riding performance of both you and your horse. 

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