A proper cool down is always important, but with summer rides taking place in hot and often humid weather, your horse is more likely to become overheated while working. Make sure to keep an eye on the heat index (combination of temperature and humidity) and tailor your rides accordingly so both you and horse exercise without overdoing it. After a ride, follow these general guidelines on how to cool down a horse to ensure your horse is comfortable when you put him back in his stall or pasture this summer.
- Walking Cool Down – Spend roughly the last 10-15 minutes of your ride at the walk. Pay attention to how much your horse’s nostrils are flared and how fast his flanks move as he breathes. You should walk until his breathing and nostril flare return to normal. Using a moisture-wicking saddle pad can help your horse stay cool during the ride, making the cool down a bit quicker. After you dismount, loosen his girth slightly for the walk back to the barn to make him more comfortable and to begin taking pressure off his back.
- Allow Access to Water – Once you’ve untacked, make sure you offer your horse a drink of water. Drinking cool water helps the horse’s temperature lower after a workout and helps avoid dehydration. Allow water in moderation until the horse is cooled down and breathing has returned to normal. If your horse does not seem to be drinking enough water on a regular basis, electrolytes can be used as a supplement to encourage drinking.
- Hose with Cool Water – Rinsing off a horse with cool water helps to lower his body temperature as heat is absorbed off his body into the water through conduction. Start with hosing his legs so he can become accustomed to the water temperature, then working your way up to his chest and shoulders and then the rest of his body. After hosing, remove excess water from the horse’s body with a sweat scraper. The water you scrape off the horse may feel hot or warm. If this is the case, hose him again and repeat the process until the water scraping off feels cool.
- Hand Walk or Graze in Shade – Putting a horse back into his stall while still wet can cause him to heat back up, particularly if the air is still. Allowing your horse to fully or partially dry outside in the shade or in the barn aisle with a fan is the best way to ensure your cooled off horse stays that way. Once his skin feels cool to the touch, he can be put back into his stall.
- Hold Grain – While eating grass or hay after a workout is fine in most cases, grain should be held for a while until the horse is completely cool. Once your horse is cooled and breathing normally, grain should be fine. If you are unsure, consult with your veterinarian to determine when grain is ok to feed, and whether allowing grass and hay in the interim is fine.
If your horse runs hot even when he’s not being exercised, a cooling blanket, such as the HyperKewl™ Evaporative Cooling Horse Blanket, can help provide relief while he’s relaxing and at rest. After being submerged in water for a few minutes and having the excess water rung out, this blanket will keep your horse cool for four to six hours. There may be scenarios where your cool out procedure differs from these guidelines on how to cool out a horse, but this is a great place to start.