Keeping cool at competitions

While we all long for a nice day when we’re heading to a show, the reality can sometimes be a challenge. The horsebox becomes furnace-like, flies are everywhere, warming-up becomes a complete misnomer, the ground is brick-hard and you’re both hot, tired and sweaty — and that’s before you’ve done your class. Then there are the added worries of dehydration and looking after your horse’s limbs on firm going.

Top tips to keep cool

Marcus Tregoning, trainer of Epsom Derby winner Sir Percy: pour cool water over the horse’s back and flanks immediate after the race and then walk around for about 40min to cool down. Keep an eye on water intake and droppings for signs of dehydration.

Newmarket-based trainer John Berry: Plan your journey. Leave early in the morning to avoid travelling while it’s too hot. It might be fine while the lorry’s moving and there’s a flow of air, but if you get stuck in a traffic jam it can get very hot.

Warren Greatrex, assistant trainer to Oliver Sherwood: Keep water “on tap” whether you think the horse will drink or not. If water can’t be constantly available then keep offering it regularly.

Cheshire-based event rider Neil Fox: In hot weather reduce your warm up time accordingly. Make the most of any available shade. And don’t forget to keep drinking lots of fluids yourself to avoid dehydration. Take isotonic drinks for yourself, as well as electrolytes for your horse.

Event rider Bryony Whittington: After the cross-country, loosen your horse’s girth and sponge them down, scraping the excess water off and walking them round until they are comfortable and their breathing rate is down. Bryony feeds Liquidlytes electrolytes in their water for five days before and after an event, in addition to daily salt.

Event rider Mary King: The hotter the weather, the quicker you have to cool the horse down. Have water ready at the finish, quickly whip off the tack and, if possible, have two people washing the horse down. Offer the horse water constantly to avoid dehydration.

Show jumper Sophie Tobin: Work horses early in the morning and put them away. Take 5min out during your warm-up and stand in some shade. If the ground is hard don’t jump!

Show rider Jo Bates: Take water into the ring to sponge off sweat after the individual show. Cover the horse with a lightweight cotton sheet to keep coat flat. Arrive at the show early, work in first thing then put the horse away until the class. Add chopped apple or sugar beet water to the bucket to encourage horses to drink, or sponge out their mouths.

Endurance GB team member Christina Yeoman: Put carrot puree and some sugar in your horse’s drinking water to encourage them to drink. Make sure there is plenty of water on hand to pour over the horses at the vet checks.

Scottish endurance rider Alison Wilson: Repeatedly pour cold water over the horses while walking around to cool them without them stiffening up.

Hot tips for cool horses

  • Don’t restrict water intake, but don’t let your horse drink gallons before fast work
  • Travel early in the morning
  • Try warming up first thing, putting your horse away and then bringing him out again near your start time
  • Use electrolytes on the run-up to a competition, and for several days afterwards
  • Encourage fussy drinkers by adding some chopped apple, carrot puree or a little bit of sugar beet to their drinking water
  • Be aware of the signs of heat stress in your horse — high temperature, poor performance, rapid shallow breathing — as early treatment can prevent the development of heatstroke
  • Don’t forget to drink lots of fluids yourself

This feature was first published in Horse & Hound 15 June ’06

For more advice on competing in hot weather check out HHO’s new horse care archive