Cooling Hot Horses: The Right Way and Busting Myths

Cooling Hot Horses: The Right Way & Busting Myths

Cooling down a horse after intense exercise or in hot weather is crucial for its health and well-being. There are numerous myths surrounding the best practices for cooling horses, some of which can be detrimental. Here we’ll take a look at some of the common misconceptions and the best way to cool a hot horse.

Myth 1: Cold Water Will Cause Muscle Cramping or Shock


One of the most pervasive myths is that using cold water to cool a hot horse will cause muscle cramps, colic, or even shock the horse's system. This is not true. Studies have shown that using cold water is the most effective method for reducing a horse’s body temperature. The key is to apply it rapidly and consistently.

Correct Method

Hose the horse down with cold water, focusing on covering as much of the horse as possible, don’t start with the legs; another myth. Continuous application of cold water helps dissipate heat efficiently. Keep applying continuous cool water for several minutes if necessary, according to Dr. David Marlin. (1)

Myth 2 - Not Scraping Off Water Traps Heat


One misconception is that you need to scrape off excess water as it will ‘insulate’ the horse and trap heat.

Correct Method

If your horse is hot from working or being outside in the heat, you need to cool them as quickly as possible. Keep applying cool water without scraping to do this as quickly as possible. You should continue to do this until the horse shows signs of being more comfortable.

Scraping off the water and reapplying fresh, cold water helps maintain the cooling effect. A study found that not scraping body temperature reduction was greater. (2) This process should be repeated until the horse's temperature decreases to a safe level. If it is very hot, cooling with water and then not scrapping at all will help maintain the cooling effect longer.

For example, think about going swimming on a really hot day. When you get out of the water will you stay more comfortably cool longer if you towel yourself off or not? Leaving the water on yourself will keep you cooler for longer.

Myth 3: Walking the Horse Until It Dries is the Best Way to Cool Down


While walking a horse can help prevent stiffness and aid in the cooling process, it is not the most effective standalone method for rapidly cooling a hot horse. In high temperatures, this method alone may not sufficiently reduce the horse's body temperature.

Correct Method

Combining walking with cold water hosing is more effective. After hosing the horse, walking can help maintain circulation and aid in overall recovery, but should not replace active cooling methods like cold water application.

Myth 4: Natural Cooling (Shade and Air Movement) is Sufficient


While shade and air movement can assist in cooling, they are often insufficient on their own, especially after intense exercise or in extreme heat. Horses generate significant body heat during exercise, and relying solely on passive cooling methods can lead to overheating and heat stress.

Correct Method

Active cooling methods should be combined with natural cooling strategies. After applying cold water and walking the horse, ensure it has access to shade and a well-ventilated area. Fans can also be used to enhance airflow and help evaporate sweat more effectively.

Key Steps for Effective Cooling:

  • Immediate Cold Water Application: Use a hose or buckets of cold water to douse the horse
  • Monitor Temperature: Regularly check the horse’s rectal temperature to ensure it returns to a safe level (below 102°F or 38.9°C).
  • Post-Cooling Care: After the initial cooling, walk the horse to promote circulation and muscle relaxation. Provide access to shade and water, and consider using fans to increase airflow.
  • Hydration: Ensure the horse has plenty of fresh water to drink. Electrolyte solutions can help replace salts lost through sweating.

Final Thoughts

Proper cooling techniques are essential for the health and performance of horses, especially in hot weather or after strenuous exercise. Debunking common myths and applying scientifically backed methods ensures that horses recover safely and efficiently. Always prioritize immediate and effective cooling methods, such as cold water application, and combine them with supportive measures like walking and proper hydration. By following these guidelines, horse owners can prevent heat-related illnesses and keep their equine companions healthy and comfortable.

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  1. Best Practice for horses in a Heatwave, Dr David Marlin

.    2.      Relinquish the Sweat Scraper to Best Cool Horses, By Kentucky Equine Research Staff

     3.      Kang, H., R.R. Zsoldos, J.E. Skinner, J.B. Gaughan, and A.S. Guitart. 2021. Comparison of   post-exercise cooling methods in horses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science:103485.

Blog Post written by:
By Siun Griffin
Animal Physiotherapist and Community Manager at London College of Animal Osteopathy (LCAO).