Cooling Down: the Most Important Part of Your Ride

Many people forget that horses are athletes as well as companions and that they should be treated as such.  Any competitive human athlete always takes the time after their workout, game, or race to bring their heart-rate and body temperature carefully back to normal so that their body has time to repair itself; they do this by staying moving.

The cool-down session of a horse’s workout is the most commonly forgotten part. Because horses are athletes, they too need time to cool down and bring their body back to normal.  Going for a hard ride, then sticking they horse in his stall while he is breathing hard and sweating is harmful to his health in multiple ways!

If it is cold out while your horse’s body is trying to cool down, he will experience a rapid cooling, get the chills, begin to shiver, and become stiff, sore, and sick.  If he has access to food while he is hot and sweaty he will not be able to digest properly because his body is trying to cool off; this could cause him to colic.  If it is extremely hot outside, and you hose him off with ice cold water his muscles can experience shock, or can tie-up.  On the other hand, if it is extremely hot outside and you let him stand in his hot stall he could suffer a heat stroke.

So, how do you properly cool down your horse?  Follow these steps for a proper cool-down:

If it’s COLD outside:

  1. Un-tack your horse
  2. If he is sweaty, lay a cooler* over the top of him.  If the cooler becomes soaked with sweat before your horse is dry you will need to replace the old cooler with a fresh one until your horse is dry.
  3. Walk your horse around until his breathing returns to normal and he does not feel hot to the touch.  (You can observe how hard your horse is breathing by watching how quickly his flank rises and falls).
  4. If your horse is cool, but he still has access sweat on his body, he does not need to keep walking around, but he does need to maintain a cooler until he is dry.
  5. Once your horse is completely dry he will be easy to brush off, and he can be fed or he can go frolic in the pasture.

*A cooler is the common term for a fleece-like blanket designed for horses.  Its purpose is to wick away moisture from the horses body.  It is the only devise that can properly cool down a wet horse in cold weather.

An Unappreciative Horse and His Cooler

If it’s HOT outside:

  1. Un-tack your horse
  2. If he is foaming or dripping with sweat, rinse him off with warm water to avoid shock.
  3. Walk your horse around until his breathing returns to normal and he does not feel hot to the touch. (You can observe how hard your horse is breathing by watching how quickly his flank rises and falls).
  4. If your horse is cool, but he still has access sweat on his body the sun is a great tool to use to evaporate any sweat.
  5. Once your horse is completely dry he will be easy to brush off, and he can go back outside, into his stall, or be fed his favorite snack.

If your horse cannot catch his breath, is panting, lethargic, or just cannot seem recover he may be suffering from HEAT STROKE.

What to do in case of Heat Stroke:

  • Take your horses temperature rectally.  Anything over 101°F is considered abnormal.
  • Keep walking to help your horse catch his breath.
  • Sponge ice water onto the neck, chest, girth, and flank areas to try to cool his blood and organs down.
  • Inform your vet if you suspect heat stroke so he can be ready if your horse is not recovering in a timely manner.
  • Note the time you stopped working your horse to monitor how long it is taking him to recover (the vet will want this information).