Heat and Your Horse

Helpful tips during hot days and nights

By Joyce Harman, DVM


With the extreme heat across the country, it’s important to pay attention to the effects it has on your individual horse. In general horses are better equipped to handle extremes of cold than they are heat. There are breeds adapted to heat such as the Arab and the Florida Cracker horse, but most of our preferred riding horses are from cooler climates.

The heavier the build (think warmblood, draft, muscled Quarterhorse, etc.) the harder it is for them to cool their body mass. The more hair the horse has either from PPID or naturally heavy coat (ponies, drafts) the less easily they cool.

Another big issue is that the evenings are not cooling off in many places. This means there is little relief from the heat. Many barn structures retain the heat from the daytime without cooler evening air to reduce the wood or metal temperatures.

A handy cooling towel that can work with minimal water in areas with drought is found here https://www.equicooldown.com/. It works best when the humidity is lower, since it’s cooling relies on evaporation, but it helps some with higher humidity.  I love them to keep me  cool in this hot weather!!!


Anhydrosis (non-sweater)

Anhydrosis is a condition where horses stop or greatly reduce the amount of sweat they produce. Since horses get 65-70% of their cooling from sweat, any decrease can become serious. Their internal temperature can climb to dangerous levels and they can die. One of the triggers is high humidity and nighttime temperatures over 70-80 degrees night after night. This used to be a condition confined to the south and coastal areas. Now, my area in the mid-Atlantic is commonly over 70 degrees at night, and very humid. I see more non-sweaters than I have before. There are natural supplements that can help, such as adding beer (yes, a cold one J), a product called One AC, and some Chinese herbs or homeopathics that can help.



Hot summer air often harbors higher levels of air pollution in normal years. Add in the smoke from the wildfires in the west that is traveling to the east, the levels of pollution are higher than ever. This will affect respiratory issues for sure, but also exposes horses to toxins and can affect sensitive horses’ skin when the rain washes the pollution out of the air over the animals. The toxins will accumulate in water and across the pasture grasses. There is little we can do about the contamination, but we can supplement and support detoxification. Keep sensitive-skinned horses under cover when rains come following dry spells or give them a good bath when the rain stops.

In areas where the smoke is severe, work with your local holistic vet who is figuring out the best herbs and supplements for the types and concentrations of smoke in the local area.

Pay attention to keeping yourself and your horses safe in the hot weather. Try to ride in the cooler part of the day and use electrolytes for the horses and humans. Get through the summer and ready for fall riding weather.


About Joyce Harman, DVM, MRCVS

Dr. Joyce Harman graduated from Virginia Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1984 and became a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in 1985. She is certified in veterinary acupuncture and veterinary chiropractic. She has advanced training in homeopathy and herbal medicine and is currently working on a master’s degree in Chinese medicine. Dr. Harman has served as president of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, chairman of the Alternative Medicine (Therapeutic Options) Committee for the American Association of Equine Practitioners and has been a member of the task force on alternative medicine for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). She has published over 40 papers in professional publications, given many lectures to professional audiences internationally, and was the team veterinarian for the USA East Endurance Team in the 1991 North American Championship race and for the gold medal-winning team in Calgary, Canada, in 1993.

Since 1990, Dr. Harman has owned and operated Harmany Equine Clinic, a holistic veterinary practice, in Washington, Virginia. Visit www.harmanyequine.com. For Appointments call 540-229-1855

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