The athletic horse - heatwave and electrolytes
The ideal outside temperature for a horse is between -5 and 15°C. A horse at rest begins to suffer from heat above 20°C and even more so if the humidity level is above 60%.
When the horse starts to move, to work, it produces energy, but unfortunately it only uses 20% of this energy to move forward and the remaining 80% is eliminated in the form of heat.
A horse's body temperature is between 37.5-38.5°C.
During intense exercise this temperature can increase up to 40°C.
The horse then begins to sweat to eliminate heat.
When a horse sweats a lot (effort, heat, etc.) it loses not only water, but also mineral salts.
It is then useful to provide it with electrolytes: different salts, charged with negative or positive ions, the most important of which are: Sodium (Na+), Potassium (K+), Chloride (Cl-), Calcium (Ca2+), Magnesium ( Mg2+) and Phosphorus (H2PO4).
Electrolytes play an important role in water metabolism, enzyme synthesis, neuromuscular transmission and acid-base balance.
This balance participates in the regulation of numerous cellular functions and its disruption can lead to muscle acidosis and a reduction in enzymatic functions.
Electrolyte losses are fecal, urinary but especially sweaty.
We can really talk about losses when horses are subjected to intense efforts; several hours per day or competitions over several days, with temperatures above 30° and humidity above 70%.
When a horse loses a lot of water, dehydration can occur, which results in loss of skin elasticity, lack of thirst, anorexia, loss of endurance, decreased performance, hyperthermia, increased heart rate etc.
You can highlight dehydration by pinching, between your thumb and forefinger, the horse's skin at the level of its neck. When you release the fold of skin, it should disappear; its persistence shows that the horse is dehydrated.
Subsequently, there is a risk of metabolic disorders and an accumulation of lactates, heart and respiratory rates remain high and fatigue sets in.
It is then desirable to quickly provide electrolytes while ensuring that the horse drinks in sufficient quantity!
We speak of dehydration when water loss represents 3 to 4% of body weight. Beyond 8% serious problems appear, which require veterinary intervention.
Fluid intake alone will often be useless, as the kidney eliminates water immediately. For efficient water absorption, the body needs sodium, so it is essential to administer electrolytes early to the horse.
The sports that most commonly lead to dehydration are: eventing, racing and endurance.
During competitions lasting several days (full event, endurance) it is advisable to bring electrolytes a few days before the event. The horse can thus build up a “normal” level, and you will be sure to avoid deficiencies. Overdose is useless since the horse does not store electrolytes, it eliminates them, which overloads its digestive system.
At a competition, many horses don't drink like they do at home. In this case, be vigilant and administer electrolytes in small quantities, but only if the horse has drunk a sufficient quantity.
Be careful and moderate with the administration of electrolytes.
Horses that perform light work (horses at amateur level or leisure horses) do not need it at all, not even in summer.
The forage provides a good amount of calcium, phosphorus and potassium. In addition, the fibers contained in it retain water in the digestive system, thus constituting the stock of water and electrolytes, necessary during an event/race. Give plenty of good hay until the last moment.
Processed food contains electrolytes, it is worth reading the list of ingredients on the bag, before administering additional electrolytes.
Don't forget to provide a salt stone throughout the year, preferably the Himalayan Salt Stone , don't forget it during competitions.
Some tips for managing the heat well, especially during competitions:
*to cool a horse effectively, you must start by passing a well-wet sponge over the head, neck and entire body before showering, then scrape off the lukewarm water using a heat knife and run it: the air current will help the skin to cool; repeat the shower-scrape-walk as necessary;
*do not use wet towels, this will prevent sweat from evaporating;
*during hot days, never use a drying shirt, it will absorb the sweat and it will be the shirt that cools down instead of the horse;
*do not leave the horse unnecessarily in direct sunlight;
*if you are not sure that your horse is drinking enough, then close the automatic waterers and give water in buckets, this will allow you to control the quantities drunk;
*if necessary, wet the hay, this will provide more water;
*during transport, offer the horse something to drink as often as possible; even if he does not sweat much, he loses water through his breathing;
*get used to taking your horse's temperature regularly;
*if you cannot bring the temperature below 39°C within 20 minutes of exercise, consult a veterinarian immediately;
*also call a veterinarian when the skin fold test is positive and/or if the horse loses the drinking reflex, in the meantime you can administer water using a syringe.