A great deal of research has been conducted in preparation for the equestrian events at the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta. Many of these studies have focused on the proper method for cooling out horses after strenuous athletic competition. This work has dispelled many myths about cooling horses.
Working horses produces a tremendous amount of energy. Only twenty percent of this energy is used for work; eighty percent is released as heat. If this heat is not dissipated quickly, it causes the horse’s internal body temperature to rise at a rapid rate, (a condition called hyperthermia), with possible deleterious effects. Strenuous exercise in hot, humid conditions are the most dangerous.
In order to cool a horse efficiently, it should be moved to the shade and the saddle and pad should be removed. A bucket of cool water should be offered to the horse immediately, because the thirst reflex is strongest right at the cessation of exercise. Let the horse drink all it wants, since the water will cool the horse, rehydrate the horse, and will not cause colic.
The Spokane area is often hot, but not humid. Severe hyperthermia is an uncommon condition here, and most horses will cool satisfactorily if they are walked in the shade until dry. If you are concerned that your horse is not cooling quickly enough, take his rectal temperature ten minutes after the cessation of exercise. If it is 104.0 or over, pour or sponge very cold water continuously all over the horse; concentrate on the large neck and rump muscles, and the back. Contrary to popular belief, applying even ice-cold water to the horse will not cause tying up. Keep cooling the horse and take the temperature every 10 minutes until the temperature is below 102.0. Walk the horse until he is dry.
If your horse is listless, has a lack of appetite, or has a rectal temperature above 103.0 more than 30 minutes after a ride, he may be suffering from heat exhaustion. In this case, continue aggressive cooling efforts while summoning a veterinarian. This condition is a life-threatening emergency.