Feeding Horses During Hot Weather

Performance horses in all disciplines, from racing to western pleasure, are expected to deliver optimum performance all year around, regardless of temperature. Summer conditions of high temperature and humidity presents several challenges to the horse owner. Proper management of working conditions, water consumption and feeding practices can help meet the challenge.

Working Conditions:

  1. Early morning and evening rides are better for both horse and rider.
  2. Horses confined during the day should have shade, ventilation and fresh clean water. This applies to horses in stalls, at shows or in the pasture.
  3. If horses must be trained or shown during the heat of the day, they should be offered water regularly. A hot horse should not be allowed to drink large quantities of cold water then stand, but a horse cannot cool down properly if it is dehydrated. The rule “six sips and walk” provides a good guideline. Horses going in classes throughout the day must be allowed to drink regularly, as dehydration and heat stroke can be deadly.
  4. Loss of fluid can also make a horse prone to colic. If a horse stops sweating, immediate action is required.

Feeding Management Practices:

  1. Adjust the energy sources fed. The horse’s total thermal load can be reduced by using highly digestible fiber sources and added fat feed sources.
    1. High fiber hay produces more heat increment or heat of digestion than lower fiber hay.
    2. Fat produces the lowest heat increment.
    3. The most heat efficient hay source for a performance horse would be an early cut grass or grass legume mixture. This hay should be fine in texture and relatively soft to the touch.
  2. An added fat feed or the addition of corn oil to the diet will provide higher energy with lower intake, and will assist in reducing the thermal load. Added fat diets may also produce the additional performance benefits of increased endurance and reduced fluid loss.
  3. Feeding small amounts throughout the day rather than two large feedings may also be beneficial as the heat produced by digestion can be spread out.
  4. Very high levels of protein should be avoided as the excess nitrogen increases fluid loss due to the higher urine output.

Feeding Salt & Electrolytes:

  1. Loose trace mineral salt in a feeder protected from rain should be available free choice. Manufactured feeds will generally contain 0.5%-1.0% salt, but a performance horse may require 4-6 ounces of salt per day to maintain electrolyte balance. Horses will generally not consume this much block salt.
  2. Electrolyte supplements may be beneficial immediately before and during a competition, but care must be exercised to make certain the horse is consuming adequate water.
    1. Giving a concentrated electrolyte without adequate water consumption may actually increase the potential for a problem.

Summer is a great season to spend more time with horses. Proper management can help make certain it is pleasant and safe for both horse and rider.

10 Replies to “Feeding Horses During Hot Weather”

  1. I have a horse ranch near Paso Robles for the past 25 years. We have very hot summers and I find wetting down the feed helps to get them to take in more water. I have also found that hosing them down, in stalls or out in the open pastures is very helpful and they love it. When it is hot, around 100 degrees or more, they come running in the med day heat when they see we are going for the hose.

    1. I hose mine down in the heat of the day, they love it and I can water some thirsty trees at the same time

  2. I have had horses in Fl for 40 years. Before the Atlanta Olympics, they did research about heat and horses. One of their recommendations is that if you need to feed a hay like alfalfa, that you feed it at night. I feed coastal during the day and alfalfa for my hard keepers at night.

  3. I have a yearling Trakehner filly on Safecoice mare & foal. I am really happy w the feed,but I have a question..At 16% protein,Im careful to not overload her. Her weight is perfect,but would adding the corn oil be helpful at all? Im not one for additives when the feed,hay,paddock and water are everything she needs..thoughts?

    1. Hello Helen, Excellent question. If your filly is in good condition and by all appearances doing well, and you are feeding the correct amount of product according to the directions on the bag, then there is no real reason to supplement with oil (corn or other varieties). The SafeChoice Mare & Foal is designed to give her all the nutrition and calories she needs, when fed along with quality hay and/or pasture.
      Thank you,
      Roy J.

  4. Why would you suggest corn oil as a fat additive? Studies have shown that all fats are not created equal. Corn oil contains almost all Omega 6 fatty acids—generally pro-inflammatory—and very little of the anti-inflammatory Omega 3 fatty acids that have so many health benefits. While our bodies need both types, keeping the proper balance between the two is important. I have been using Nutrena Safe Choice for almost 4 years now and I am dissappointed to read this advise. 🙁

    1. Hello Bree, Thank you for your excellent question. The use of vegetable oils as both a safe energy source and as a source of specific essential fatty acids is an evolving process and we understand and agree that not all vegetable oils are the same. From an energy standpoint, the vegetable oils are quite similar. Corn oil has been used very successfully for a long time as both a palatable safe energy source and as a source of fatty acids to improve hair coat. The research on the interaction of Omega 6 fatty acids and inflammation indicates that if horses experience circumstances that are likely to result in inflammation, the Omega 6 fatty acids are indeed the precursors of the compounds produced by the body as a part of the inflammation process. The Omega 6 fatty acids themselves do not directly contribute to/cause inflammation. The interesting question that has not been addressed is if reducing the inflammation or the presence of these compounds is consistent with the healing process. We do know that the use of NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) may actually delay or prolong the healing process.

      We make use of some more specific formulation in our Empower Boost and SafeChoice Senior.

      Other interesting research suggested that in some cases Omega 3 fatty acids may have an adverse impact on fertility in some horses.

      You are quite correct that the goal is meet both quantity and ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids as well as the other key nutrients involved in growth and performance. We keep this clearly in mind as we work on product design.

      We anticipate ongoing opportunities to improve product design as more research gives us better information.

      Thank you,
      Roy J.

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