heat-stress-horse-in-trailer
When hauling to summer shows, it's important to help horses stay cool inside the trailer and support them if they begin to feel stressed. • Photo by Molly Montag.

5 Ways to Beat Heat Stress While Hauling

It’s summer, and with this time of year comes a plethora of horse shows all around the United States. In hotter locations like Oklahoma City, Las Vegas and Fort Worth, Texas, the blistering heat that accompanies the season can create some hazardous situations for those hauling horses to events.

If you’re planning to trailer to a show this summer, you will need to plan ahead to protect your horses from heat stressQuarter Horse News (QHN) spoke with Dr. Megan Petty, resident farm veterinarian at La Feliz Montana Ranch in Hondo, New Mexico, and BioZyme Companion Animal Business Development team leader Dr. Lynsey Whitacre to get some tips on successfully hauling in the summer heat.

1. Encourage Water Intake

Horses drink 6-10 gallons of water a day when at rest, and that amount increases dramatically when they are exercising or trailering in hot conditions, Petty said. A rule of thumb she suggested is to offer water to the horse any time you stop. You can leave the bucket hung in the trailer, but don’t be surprised if they don’t drink much while moving.

A horse’s water intake increases dramatically when it’s hot. Offering a horse water during stops is a good way to try to encourage water intake on the road. If they won’t drink, disguising the taste with flavorings may help. • Photo by Molly Montag.

If your horse isn’t a good drinker while traveling, you have a couple options. You can bring your own water with you, or you can add a Gatorade powder packet to their water bucket for a period of time before traveling to get them used to the taste. Then, use the packets to disguise the water at your destination.

“You’ll still want to provide plain water as well, which means at least two water buckets,” Petty said. “That way, they have the option of plain water if they want it.” 

2. Support the Gut

A horse’s thermoneutral zone, where they’re not having to use energy to warm up or cool off due to outside temperature, is generally between 40- 80 degrees Fahrenheit, Whitacre said. Prolonged temperatures above that range can start to trigger heat stress, which can cause horses to go off feed. Prebiotics or probitiocs added to their feed before the trip can help support the microflora in the gut, giving the horse a better baseline for staying healthy during a trip. 

“By helping the gut to stay in the best condition it can, we can hopefully avoid any disruptions in gut health that might be caused either by hauling or the heat, or both of those things combined,” Whitacre said. “Try to provide as much forage beforehand as possible, as well as during the trip, to help keep the gut in good shape and active, instead of it being empty.”

3. Check Your Route Beforehand

As long as your trailer is moving and you have all the windows and vents open — with the bars up so the horse can’t stick its head out — your horse is getting airflow, even if you’re traveling during the heat of the day. If you have to stop often due to traffic jams or construction, though, your horse will heat up quickly. Try to avoid routes that require you to sit in stop-and-go traffic, which is hard enough on horses without the sun beating down on them.

Allowing horses air flow will help keep them cool if you encounter slow or stopped traffic on a hot day. • Photo by Molly Montag.

“Horses shift their weight frequently while in the trailer, which can expend as much energy as walking,” Petty said. “You want to try to give your equine buddy as comfortable a ride as possible, especially in hot weather conditions.”

4. Continue Support After the Trip

After you’ve arrived at your destination, don’t assume your horse is out of the danger zone once it’s off the trailer. It might need some time to recover from the trip as it adjusts to the new environment, which could be hotter than it’s used to. Whitacre said some supplements, like BioZyme’s Vitalize Blazin’, work to help keep horses cool.

“It helps support the cooling mechanism in the body by promoting blood flow to the skin,” Whitacre said. “As that blood flow comes to the skin, some of the heat will be exchanged with the outside air, which then makes the blood cooler. It can actually start to reduce the core body temperature and make that horse a little bit more comfortable.”

5. Watch for These Signs of Heat Stress

If your horse is sweating excessively or has stopped sweating altogether, it’s likely suffering from heat exhaustion, Petty said. Signs of heat stress include:

  • Weakness
  • Stumbling
  • Increased respiratory rate (more than 32 breaths per minute)
  • Increased rectal temperature (higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit)

The latter constitutes an emergency, she added.

To help cool your horse down, offer water in small amounts. You can also try hosing them with cool water, starting at the legs and working your way up along the jugular groove of the neck, then over the rest of the horse. Put the horse in the shade, ideally with some airflow.

“Intravenous fluid administration is always something a veterinarian can provide after you arrive if there is concern that your horse has become dehydrated during the ride,” Petty said. “Don’t be afraid to have a veterinary exam performed upon your arrival if you think anything is amiss.”