As summer heat drags on, horses face unique challenges
MEGGETT — The heat index was inching toward 110 degrees here Tuesday afternoon, as Cash nuzzled a hose and took a long drink of water.
Go to learnhorserescue.com to find out more about the nonprofit Livestock and Equine Awareness and Rescue Network, including how to adopt, volunteer and donate.
Right in the peak of the day’s heat, it was sweltering — and that was without Cash’s coat or his golden mane.
“I tell people it’s like being out in the heat wrapped in the fur coat,” said Elizabeth Steed, the founder of LEARN Horse Rescue.
That’s why, come summer, horses present unique challenges for their owners and caretakers.
Steed knows those problems well. She and her organization have 33 horses on five different farms in their care.
Each horse requires a good deal of attention and diligence. She bathes them in cool water, takes note of their sweat patterns, replaces their water and feeds them a midday snack.
That’s just her mid-afternoon round. Earlier in the day, Steed gave them feed with an electrolyte-heavy supplement, placed frozen jugs in their water tubs and replaced the water once more.
And if something seems off, like if a horse isn’t sweating — a condition called anhidrosis — or seems lethargic, there’s not very much time to react. As with humans, in equine heat-related illnesses, time is of the essence.
In the summer, Steed, who isn’t paid for her work, starts her day at sunrise so all the horses can be fed before the heat index creeps into the upper 90s and 100s. Feeding them in those conditions, she said, would be unhealthy.
Tuesday, she was doing it alone. Volunteers “drop like flies” in the heat, save for a small cadre who stay on.
Horses also are unique in that they require a particular skill set and degree of expertise — and you can’t take them into the air-conditioned indoors.
The combination of the extra care the animals require and the minimal outside help she gets make for long days. Steed doesn’t usually get home until 9:30 or 10 each night, she said.
It also doesn’t leave her with many other options. The horses and other livestock her organization attends to still need water, food and care, and they need it regularly, whatever the temperature.
And so it will continue as the summer continues to slog onward.
“I’m thinking August.” Steed said. “August is going to be brutal.”
Reach Thad Moore at 958-7360 or on Twitter @thadmoore.