It has been a particularly hot summer here in New Jersey. Listening to the weather channel indicates we are not the only ones setting a record number of days above 90º. During the summer the barn conversations invariably roll around to getting all the rides done early in the morning. As I listen to the schedules and look at all the gear on the horses I find myself to be the eccentric rider. But all my antics have a factual basis for them, I am mindful, however, that I don’t always work the fact right.
From my youthful wanderings around the country I know that humidity prevents effective evaporation and evaporation is the body’s major cooling mechanism for humans and horses. I also know that air movement aids in that evaporation.
Every location’s climate is different, but here in the Garden state our humidity is always higher in the morning hours, dropping around 11 am and staying lower until the day is almost evening. Lower is relative, a Jersey summer day can start out with 80-90% humidity in the early hours and drop to 60% by lunch. Dry by Louisiana standards and a sopping mess by New Mexico’s numbers. The stillness of the morning almost always gives way to a 4-7 mile-per-hour wind by lunch, adding another cooling dimension.
So, despite the rise in the mercury bulb during the summer, I often find the boys and I are more comfortable riding a bit later in the day when the morning humidity drops and the afternoon breeze sets in.
I’ve tried to explain this to friends but get tongue-tied and lost amidst explanations of evaporation, convection, conduction and radiation as forms of heat transfer. (maybe it’s a “tion” thing) And the “heat index” or “real feel” temperature given with the weather report is just a mathematical equation based on a subjective study. Wind is rarely mentioned as a cooling effect in the summer, but we get a daily wind chill report in the winter. Why the weatherman discounts the wind’s affect on heat is beyond me. How do they think the idea of fans came into being?
Then there is the ride itself. My summer rides follow the shady side of the path or the forest edge of a field. Working near a river is sure to have a cooler microclimate – nature’s air conditioner. Avoiding fields with vegetation above 18 inches allows the horses’ bodies to feel breezes and keeps the bugs down too. Tall grass works like its own little insulation factory. I run through the sun and slow in the shade. Sometimes the shade of an indoor doesn’t compensate for the higher humidity lurking inside; a contribution from each horse ridden in it over the last 24 hours. California and Florida have simple roofs over their rings to abate the sun - what a great idea.
River walking is a special delight as the horse comes out cooler than when he went in. I was once fortunate to have a solid-bottom, shallow river by me and the boys and I spent many days walking a mile or more in the cool water. Great work for their muscles and their work-out was their cool-down for the day.
If the summer humidity is below 60% I will wet my horses down before I ride them, being careful to scrap all the excess water off. Odd thing water, it cools the veins, yet can generate an insulation effect if left to soak on the horse and weigh the hair coat against the skin trapping in the body’s heat, or robbing it in the winter. But then I’ve never understood why ice floats. Water is nature behaving oddly. And all of my friends think the saddle and pad will fall off if I place them on a wet horse. It’s a trick I learned from endurance riders and they are not known for their saddles sliding wrong side up. I did work with an FEI instructor once who knew this trick with horses and used it on her students as well, sponging us down as we listened how to perfect a movement.
When the humidity gets high I use alcohol baths to rinse the boys off. Alcohol or Vetrolin in a bucket of water sponged on and scraped off, evaporates quickly leaving them to be put away cool and dry.
The boys are good travelers so I dispense with leg wraps during summer travel, preferring bell boots to protect heels if there is a short stop. The major blood vessels running down each leg are a significant heat transportation highway- no use making the horse hotter than the day already will. I eliminate polo and other leg wraps for the same reason unless there truly is an orthopedic risk without them. I dress down myself in the summer and do the same for the horses.
Taking note of how the sun and shade, moisture and air swirl around you each day may give you new ideas of when and how you ride. Summer doesn’t always mean you have to be a morning person. Here’s a link to some good extension articles on keeping horses out of danger in the summer.