Tuesdays with Tony
Summer has arrived. It’s been over 90 degrees, humidity has been up there, and it’s threatening to rain every day. As far as this cat is concerned, it’s summer. I spend my summers like I spend all my seasons: going from inside to outside and back again. I have to say the outside gets very hot this time of year. Especially in my prefered spot in the middle of the driveway. I like to watch the humans either wait for me to move (I won’t), or drive around me. This week I learned that what you eat can really affect how you handle all that hot weather. That doesn’t work so well for me since I’m on a strict diet for my diabetes. However, it can be really helpful to horses during the summer who can’t come in the air conditioned great indoors.
Hay is Hot
Horses are hind gut fermenters. This means they pass a lot of gas. Cats do NOT do this, and I find the shear volume of gas a horse is able to pass from their hind end to be unbelievable. That gas is the result of microbes breaking down the fiber from forages. Yes I know there are other sources, but hay is the biggie so let’s pretend it’s only hay. Besides gas, this process creates fatty acids which the body can use for nutrition, and heat, lots and lots of heat. You know what happens when you leave the wheelbarrow full overnight? It’s all steamy when you dump it the next day. Same thing in the equine GI tract. I hear you saying “Whoa Tony. I can’t just stop feeding hay.” I know, I know! What I’m saying is summer is the time to cut hay back if you’re feeding way over 1.5% of body weight. Remember, summer is good grass season, and grass counts as forage too! This means that even if you are feeding 1.5% of body weight, it’s likely your horse is getting way more than that if you’ve got decent pasture. The other big advantage of grass is the high water content. Lots of water is always a great answer for hot weather.
Finding the cool calories
Hay makes heat, but so do some other things in the equine diet. Chief amongst these things is starch. The cool thing to do these days is feed a low starch diet, but it’s not always necessary. If your horse needs quick energy to, let’s say, run a barrel pattern for example, you are going to need some starch. What happens if a body is using mostly starch for energy? It makes a whole lot of heat! Heat is a pretty significant byproduct of energy production from starches. Know what works better? Fat. Know what’s cheap and really calorie dense? Fat. Horses can digest any vegetable oil. Add some vegetable oil to your horse’s diet, and you can keep the calories, decrease the concentrates, and reduce the amount of heat they produce. Be sure you keep the diet balanced when you do this. Ration balancers are an easy way to manage this. If you’ve got questions, remember my Docs have answers!
Support the processes
Electrolytes are a key additive in the summer. If you’ve been reading my weekly wisdom drops for a while then you know I’m not big on supplements. However, salt is life. A good electrolyte is really important during sweating season. Horses can lose so much sodium, potassium, and chloride during the summer! One reason horses are the athletes they are, is their ability to sweat to keep cool. Support that with plenty of electrolytes. A good electrolyte should have sodium, potassium, and chloride as the top three ingredients. A little sugar is important too. I know that sounds weird, but a little sugar helps the gut absorb electrolytes.
It should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. Plenty of water is necessary too. Sweating, and digesting, and just plain surviving the Florida summer requires plenty of water. Make sure your horse has lots of it. Ideally in a shaded location because who wants warm water on a hot day? Not this cat, and probably not your horse!
Mind the beach bod
Summer is the most common time for horses to gain weight thanks to all that grass, but it’s the worst time of year for them to have all that fat! Fat is an excellent insulator, trust me I know. However, during summer in Florida one doesn’t exactly need insulation. Keep an eye on that weight to make sure you aren’t making it even harder for your horse to cool down.
Ok so this isn’t nutrition related, but I feel like we should have a quick discussion about keeping your horse cool with other strategies. I love misting fans! Use them to help really cool your horse down. Speaking of misting, hosing your horse off before you ride will help cool them down. Hose them off quickly once you finish riding. Water is a great way to move heat out of your horse. You will see plenty of questionable articles this time of year about how you could darn near kill your horse by hosing them off. You can’t. What you can do is significantly reduce the time it takes to cool them off! If you want lots of science about this Google Dr. David Marlin and look at his really great work on cooling horses down. Spoiler alert: it involves a lot of water.
Summer is tough! Take if from a black cat who likes to lay around an asphalt driveway. Taking a moment to evaluate your horse’s nutrition can make summer a little easier. Need help? Call my Docs!
Until next week,
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Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!