Recently a person commented on wanting to see an article about walking out a soaking wet horse, so I thought I would give my experiences and thoughts on it here.
No matter the weather, if you're working or riding your horse and it becomes steamy hot with sweat, you will need to take the time to walk them out and cool them off the right way to avoid serious problems and vet calls.
In the winter time, if your horse becomes sweaty and steamy, remove the saddle and blanket and put a dry turnout blanket on your horse, then walk him/her until they're dry. There are several reasons for this, the main one is you don't want them to get pneumonia. Horses' bodies are huge as far as muscle mass goes. Their muscles are hot, full of blood and the only way they can release excess heat is by sweating. When hand walking them until they're dry you help the horse by keeping those muscles loose and warm, and it allows the horse to cool off slowly so they don't "tie up" or get muscle spasms. Not only is tying up painful, it's also dangerous because they can't move. Think of a knot in your thigh so tight, then try to walk on it. Your coordination is off, not to mention you probably would rather fall down and cry from the pain. The difference here, when a horse ties up, it's not just leg muscles that become affected, it's the whole body that you need to consider. They use their entire bodies when in movement. Remember also, it's not just the bigger muscles either...the heart and lungs are in this too. While they are organs, they're also muscles.
During the winter months, offer your horse warm water to drink instead of cool water and only offer a few sips at a time. Roughly every 20 minutes or so. If the blanket becomes soaking wet, remove it, brush your horse out, then replace with a dry blanket and continue hand walking until your horse is dry. Take yourself for example, when you go out in the winter and get sweaty, you don't want to come in and stay in your wet clothes. You will more than likely change your shirt to a dry one, stand by the heater to get warm and if you're headed back out again, you're going to put on a dry coat in order to stay warm outside. This is something to consider also... and experiment for you to try on yourself first. Get your hands wet, then go outside. Your hands get cold pretty quickly right? Imagine being wet from head to toe standing out in that cold. More than likely you'll get sick if you do that, so don't put your horse through it. The vet bills can become astronomical.
During summer months, the same principles apply except you won't be using a blanket, and you'll offer cool water instead of warm. Hand walking until they are dry.
My parents use to tell me I had to walk my horse if they were hot and only when they were dry could I give them a bath to wash off the sweat. Others may disagree on that. Some wash down their horses right away. Others may wait a while. I personally hand walk until dry and then give a bath. This way I know that my horses muscles are cooled down, loose and they're drinking water if they want it on their own.
Check their pulse and respiration before you go riding. How are they breathing at rest? Are they relaxed and is their pulse slow or fast before hand? Having this in mind when it's time for cooling down, will help you to know when your horse is back to "normal". Is their head dropped in a relaxed manner, are they chewing or licking? These are signs of a relaxed horse. Getting to know your horse's "normal" relaxed poses will aid you in knowing when it's safe to turn them out or give them a bath.
I know many tend to over pamper their horses. Horses are more sturdy than we tend to think. However, taking care of your horse by understanding its needs, their ability to do things themselves and when it's really time for us to step in can mean the difference in a healthy horse or one that is in dire need of vet care.
On a side note here, if you only have a certain amount of time for riding, please make sure you use part of that time to cool your horse out properly. Not taking the time to do so may mean you won't get another ride on that horse. A horse will not cool themselves out. If they're hot and sweaty and you turn them loose, they're going to roll in the snow/mud/ice, look for something to eat, maybe drink a little and then stand around soaking wet. They'll get chilled, possibly get really sick and you'll be kicking yourself for not taking the time to do things right.
*Note* Cookie is doing well. She's getting her tootsies trimmed tomorrow and the shape of her hooves have made some changes. They are more concave this year, less cracking and chipping. I contribute this to good timely trimming, the milled flax seed and movement. I'm not sure if I noted this before, so I'll do it now as a reminder to myself: The previous owner said she was about 5 when he had her, and she's been with me a year so she's 6 this year, going on 7. She is gearing up for spring and hopefully we'll be able to hit some trails this year to get miles and time under our belts. Though I have a note of concern, in which the vet will check out is a knot/bump directly where the girth is in the middle of her belly. At this point I am assuming it's a turned rib, but will know more when the vet checks her out. Otherwise she is healthy, happy, ornery and full of energy. :)
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