How to Recognize and Help an Overheated Horse

Q. What are some of the signs that a horse has overheated?

Lori, California

A. The outward signs are those you’d see any time a horse is stress, so first you want to consider how hot it is and the current humidity. Those will both give you clues as to whether or not the signs are related to heat.

Number one, the horse will be breathing rapidly. They are trying to blow out air and let off heat through the respiratory tract. Some might be sweating (though horses with anhidrosis will not sweat). You’ll also see a capillary break at the skin—you’ll see the capillaries coming up to the skin surface. Everyone should have a rectal thermometer in their first-aid kit. That’s the tool you need to tell where your horse is and if he’s overheating. I always tell my clients I’d like to hear from them about a temperature of 102°F or more.

If your horse is overheated, the recommendation is to ice the horse down, cold hose, and sweat scrape—don’t let water stay on the horse because it insulates against them and can create more heat. Sweat scrape the horse, pop the hair (coat) up, and let the blood capillaries do their job of relieving the heat out of the body. You also want to get the horse into the shade with a fan on them.

About the Author

Erin Denney-Jones, DVM

Erin Denney-Jones, DVM, is an FEI veterinarian and owner of Florida Equine Veterinary Services, in Clermont, Florida. Her interests and practice areas include chiropractic care, sport horse medicine, reproduction, general medicine and surgery, and preventive care including wellness programs, vaccinations, parasite control, and dentistry.

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