A Note about Sugarbush Draft Horses

I see it over and over again, and no matter how many times it's said, it's still wrong. "Sugarbush Drafts are just an Appaloosa Draft Cross". Uh.... no. The Sugarbush Draft Horse was a breed created many years ago in Ohio. While the initial cross was made using Percherons to Appaloosas, in the many generations following, the breed has been solidified into a consistent type. Saying these horses are "just" a draft cross makes as much sense as saying that AQHA horses are "just" a Thoroughbred cross, American Cream Drafts are "just" a dilute Belgian, or that Morgans are "just" a grade.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Horses + Hot Weather (Tips from a Texan)

With much of North America having heat waves right now, I'm going to bet that there are people out there worried about how to keep their horses healthy.  Well, as a very happy heat lover (I think high 90s is LOVELY weather) I've gotten pretty good at it.

The way I see it, each of us gets used to the extremes in our areas.  A New Yorker might think nothing of a foot of snow, while a Texan thinks nothing of a month of temperatures over 100.

As you can see, my Dream girl here (Olympic Dream ApHC) isn't too thrilled about mid day in the summer, but she's also not over heated.  There are a few concerns with extreme heat and horses, and I will see if I can list off a few everyday solutions to most of them.

First, flies.  Oh yeah, those annoying pests of summer!  Well, fly spray is pretty much useless if your horse is going to be sweating a lot, or like mine, taking trips into the pond.  The only real thing I have found to work for more then a few minutes at this time of year is swat.  You know, the gel paste that repels flies?  A streak inside each leg, under the belly, and down the bridge of your horse's nose (and edges of ears if your horse doesn't have an eared fly mask) works wonders.  You don't need a lot, and you only need to reapply it ever other day it seems.  Trust me, the stuff is a pain to get off, and it does work.

And don't forget their natural defenses to pests.  Tails work wonders, when they are allowed to work.  Worry less about how pretty the tail is, and more about how long/effective it is.  At this time of year, all of my babies come out of braids, I give up on tail bags, and I will NOT trim up a tail to make it pretty, if that means losing length.  Another is a good breeze.  Give the horses access to that cross wind on the property, and they will nap there in the heat of the day.  The wind keeps away the bugs, as well as cooling off the beasties.

The most important thing for the health of the horse though, is water.  Good, cool. clear, and clean water.  I use the "will I drink it" test.  If I won't stick my face in the water trough and suck some back, then there's NO way I would expect my horses to do so either!  A simply scrub and rinse is often all that is needed to get the water drinkable, but if not, then don't be afraid to use some bleach to kill off that algae.  Rinse the bleach out of course!

Now, temperature of the water is another thing.  Stick your hand in that water and see if it's hot.  Would you drink hot water on a hot day?  Yeah, me either, and neither will the horses!  Oh floats are nice, but I've found that a full trough sitting in the sun, with a slow refill, will be HOT in a day or 2.  Dump that water out, and put in some nice cool water, and I bet you have a ton of horses sucking it back faster then it can pump.

And if your horses still aren't drinking enough, then add some salt to their diets.  Many horses (and humans) get water intoxication, and then do not feel like drinking.  Basically, this is due to osmosis, and lack of salt.  Salt is lost through sweat and it has to be replaced.  If you've ever thought you were sick from the heat, and wanted to vomit, then likely you too had water intoxication.  It's just like heat stress (heat stroke being the more severe form of heat stress) but with the puke.  When you're dehydrated, your body has no interest in giving up fluids.  When you're over filled with water, but no salt to equalize it all, then the body wants to get rid of the extra, and fast.

I try to keep salt blocks out for the horses at all times.  I use brown mineral blocks, with salt.  When it's this hot though, it's never a bad idea to add in some pure salt blocks (the white ones).  I've never used the yellow ones (aren't they for cows?) so don't know a thing about them.

I also add natural salts to my horses' grain though.  I use a red salt from Utah, simply because it has some extra minerals.  Plain ol' table salt will do just as good.  Give up to an oz. of salt per feeding.  Few horses will turn their noses up at grain, even with some salt in it.

Another great way to get fluids in the horses is with supplements.  Rice bran is a wonderful calorie and fat supplement that soaks up water nicely.  1 pound of Rice bran can easily soak up a gallon of water.  Another is beet pulp.  Many of us know about the joys of beet pulp.  And if your horse is not taking in salt at all, well, add some to the beet pulp while it's soaking, and suddenly, the salt just disappears into the horse!

Another benefit of these 2 supplements is that they are nutritious and filled with fiber.  If you're in a drought stricken area like we are (just check out how brown my pasture is beyond the fence!) then you can use these to supplement your hay.  Currently our hay here is.... well.... crap.  It's brown, it's dusty, and it's just not what I'd normally want for hay.  But when my choices are "ok" hay, "crap" hay, or NO hay... I'll settle for "ok" hay.

Back in 2007, we had a period of time there were there was NO hay at all, and I learned to do with out it.  I feed a complete feed, and offer soaked beet pulp with salt for the chew factor.  The horses are getting their nutrition (barely) and it'll get you through a month of paranoia.  You can also offer certain types of straw for the roughage, and supplement that with the beet pulp and/or rice bran.

With round bales hitting $100/each here, and squares quickly starting to rise in price, I'm mentally preparing to have to do this again.  I do not recommend it for long term though, as the horses tend to look just a bit less shiny after only a month.  I just don't think they are getting all they need from the alternatives.  It's close, but not quite the same.

If your horse is sweating buckets, do NOT worry.  That's the horse's natural air conditioning.  Simply make sure that the horse has free choice water and salt at all times.  A good hosing off will be appreciated by some horses to allow them to catch up with the cooling.  But, if you have a horse that just does NOT sweat at all in this weather, then start to worry.  Request a little exercise, and see if you can get some sweat under the blanket.  If you can, then you are probably ok (many of my horses do fine in these temperatures) but if even after a work out, the horse shows no signs of sweating, you NEED to call the vet.  This could be a big emergency.

Anhydrosis is not something to mess around with.  If you're moving a horse from a cool climate into these hot temperatures, watch for this.  It's even more common in older horses.  As some of you know, I lost a mare last year due to anhydrosis.  She was in her late teens, and moved to Texas from upper NY.  The poor girl just never could acclimate, and anhydrosis led to heat stress which led to colic.  It's not pretty, and it can get really bad really fast.  Do not try to convince yourself that you're just imagining things.  Take a lack of sweat seriously.

And then there's us people!

Amy tends to ride in long sleeve linen shirts (coats are their technical term, but it's a shirt).  Ever once in a while she decides to get a bit of sun on the midriff, and rides in her sports bra though.  (And when she does, I swear traffic picks up on the road next to the arena!).  I have heard time and time again that natural light weight fibers like linen are wonderful for keeping the heat from the body.  You trap a pocket of cooled air (due to the evaporative cooling from the sweat soaked into the material) which reduces your own body temperature.  For me, the less clothing option works better.  Being covered in sticky clingy fabric just makes me miserable.

While we tend to work further into the day then most people, Amy and I are careful to pace ourselves.  If we are thirsty, we suck back fluids - both water and gatoraid.  If we feel the signs of heat stress (headache, stomach cramps, nausea, dizziness, etc) we head into the air conditioning.  The able body person tacks down and cools out the horse (usually hosing it off to remove all of that sticky sweat).

As humidity increases, it becomes harder for the body to cool itself.  Here in my part of Texas, we tend to have pretty low humidity, less then 30% most days.  This means that my 105 degrees often is more pleasant and easier to deal with then the 90 degrees seen in the northern states.  Trust me, 80% humidity makes ANY temperature unbearable!  So even though someone else can take the heat, don't assume that means everyone can.  When your friends come out to ride, keep an eye on them.  The same is true for the horses.  Just because one doesn't seem the mind it at all, doesn't mean that another won't be suffering and need medical attention.

I don't know if this is common sense knowledge for everyone, but thought I'd share just in case it isn't.  Who knows, it might be like shoveling snow off the roof (I still can't believe that isn't a joke, and people really do that!).

Stay safe.  And if it's raining where you are.... could you send some down here?


  1. Thanks for the insight. I'm going to try the swat thing, thats for sure. Mine is the "Pink" color so I'm sure it will look striking!

  2. Laughing Orca RanchJuly 19, 2011 at 11:10 PM

    Excellent post and lots of good tips, too. I didn't know that you all had a hay shortage over there. And the tips about adding salt to the rice bran and beet pulp is useful, as well as feeding it if the horse isn't drinking more.
    I just bought a new mineral block with salt because the one used to have is the crumbly kind that the horse chews on and Apache just never really seemed to like it, although she did use it and it's mostly gone now. I've already noticed that she's licking the new one and also drinking more, so I'm very happy about that.

    I made sure to pack 3 bottles of Gatorade when I was on my competitive trail ride on Saturday. I froze two of the 24 oz bottles for my cantle bag and the 16 oz, I just refrigerated before the ride. Still I was surprised to find that both frozen bottles had thawed out just an hour into the ride. But I've learned the hard way that just plain water causes me to become water intoxicated and I need the sugars, salts and electrolytes of the Gatorade.

    And I was shocked to see other people only bringing along 1 little 16 oz water bottle.....for a 7 mile, 2-4 hour trail ride in 95F degree temps!
    My partner brought along two small water bottles and ended up begging the Safety Riders for a bottle of water because she was feeling dizzy and dehydrated and seeing spots!

    I felt bad for the horses, too, because there was no water available for them for the entire 7 miles...and they were doing most of the work.


  3. Oh wow, that's not a lot of water at all. We average a half gallon per hour of fluids. And that's for the humans! I have a water bucket in my arena for the ponies, and they get offered water about every 15 minutes or so (give or take) during their training sessions. We also share the gatoraid with the horses, which some think is a treat. Others of course are sure that I'm trying to poison them.

    As for the hay shortage, well, it's just starting. No rain means no hay has really been cut this year. Most of the people I talk to are keeping it all for themselves. Normally we have wet springs and dry summers, but this year we've just had DRY. Every hay grower I talk to is pretty sure it's not going to be enough for the demand. One told me that their entire crop for the year is already bought, including the cut they are still hoping will grow. And they sold those at $85 for a 4 x 8 round bale. (Normally $40) Luckily, my feed stores are still buying truckloads of squares from the "north" (i.e. anything more north then Texas).

    Even worse, is that normally, at this time of year, almost all of my horses are on grazing only, and I'm more worried about founder then starving. So looking out into the pasture and seeing brown is NOT making me very happy.

  4. Didn't you ever want to put Indian war paint on your horses? It's kinda like that... only neon... and pink! =)

  5. Believe it or not, we use goldfish to keep our water troughs clean. A nice green solution that saves a lot of water. We just got our first good rain in a very very long time here (Alabama). I sure hope you guys get some soon - we had a hay shortage a few years ago, and it was terrible. We are "stocking up" this year for the first time, as there is talk of another hay shortage hitting us this winter.

    The yellow blocks are sulfur blocks and help to keep ticks off and flies away (just one more piece of ammo in the arsenal IMHO - the horses love them ;) Our guys seem to do quite well in the heat and although they have plenty of shade, they don't seem to take advantage of it as much as you'd think they would.

    I drink a TON of water and take breaks in between outdoor tasks; I can't imagine attempting a long trail ride with just one bottle of water. Yikes. I try to do my rides and work sessions early or late while the heat is not quite so obnoxious. My favorite superweird recharge? A bowl of vanilla ice cream with a huge dollop of peanut butter (bring on the protein! *laugh*). For some reason, that coupled with a 10 minute break gives me enough of a boost to go another round with whatever I'm working on.

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