Beating The Heat at Tevis

When riders mount up this morning for the 55th Tevis Cup Ride they will be attempting a 100-mile horseback journey from Lake Tahoe to Auburn, Calif. When they begin their ride at the 7,200-foot-altitude Robie Equestrian Park, they will take with them the equipment and precaution necessary to keep their horses from overheating on the trail.

Many riders will opt to carry a sponge, often on a "leash" to drop into streams and into water tanks placed along the trail. Liberal use of the sponge to bathe their mounts helps keep the horses cool as they work.

"Endurance is a sport that taxes horses to the max," stated Jim Baldwin, DVM. Baldwin arrived from his Oklahoma home Thursday to vet his tenth Tevis Ride.

Baldwin suggested sponging anywhere small blood vessels are visible. The neck, chest, and between both front and hind limbs are target areas for cooling the animal with water; vessels in these regions flush heat to the skin surface, and continually sponging these areas achieves rapid evaporative cooling. The water warms up once it's on the horse, so it's important that riders scrape off the water.

Some riders also carry vessels to scoop and pour water on their horses. Standing horses in cool water at river crossings also aids in lowering their body temperatures.

Baldwin also pointed out that Tevis riders condition their horses carefully for the anticipated heat, which improves their blood vessels' cooling efficiency.

 He cautioned, however, that even fit horses can exert themselves to point of overheating. Baldwin and 16 other select equine veterinarians are charged with making sure that doesn't happen in the heat of competition.

Horses' heart and respiratory rates are measured and monitored at each of the nine veterinary checkpoints on course. If these rates fail to come down and the horse does not cool within the allotted time at the checkpoint, the veterinarian will pull the horse from the race.

About the Author

Marsha Hayes

Marsha Hayes has been covering endurance, trail, and other equine topics since 2005. She believes every horse has a story.

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