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Posts Tagged ‘sweat’

Summer Riding

Heat Index chart

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.

rubbing alcohol by the gallon

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.

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sitting on artillery in Iraq

hot and tired in Iraq

On warm days a good nose can tell which stall the smell of ammonia is coming from. Today it’s in T-man’s and Moke’s. We’ve had spring-like pasture all summer and I just got a load of new hay. The combination tipped the scale on protein. For once my mind didn’t hang around grazing with the horses, instead it shot to the container of protein supplement I just sent my soldier son in Iraq. His unit is always working out and trying to build muscle so he bought out the store when he came home for his two weeks R & R.

His unit is stationed in the south of Iraq and has lived the summer in 120-130 degree heat. Add in 50 pounds of full battle-rattle and their socks are soaked with sweat running down their body before they walk out the door. Dehydration is a serious enemy where they are.

maxing out the thermometer

maxing out the thermometer

And do you know what your body does with most of the excess protein you eat? It gets rid of it, washes it right down the toilet.  So I’m concerned about my son taking a protein supplement in the heat and becoming dehydrated. I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to educate him about protein and heat and that brought me back to the horses.

Because they handle protein a lot like we do.

Some excess protein goes into fat, but most excess protein is broken down in the kidneys and excreted in the urine. One of the elements protein breaks into is ammonia. Anytime you get a strong ammonia smell in the barn, someone is most likely gobbling more protein than they need. It’s a pretty effective indicator.

Normally I don’t obsess about that. But thinking of my son made me realize I need to do a better job of regulating my horses’ protein through the hot summer months. The Army can and does mandate how much water my son needs to drink each day in the field. But I can’t do that with my horses. Unless I syringe the water into them, I am at the mercy of their thirst indicator and urinating doesn’t always trigger the idea to drink more water.

My guys lose buckets of water in sweat during the summer. Being Icelandics with thick skin and deeply embedded veins, there are weeks when they are drenched in sweat just standing still in the shade. I rinse them off, put them under fans, elect not to work them on “Bermuda High” days, ride in the cool of the day, ride in shady routes, and ride in the river. I do everything I can to cool their body–– yet I never think about the excess protein they are eating and how much liquid they are urinating because of it.

I’ll keep it simple. Just imagine their body as a big bag of water. If water is oozing out through microscopic pores AND through a small hole in the bag, the end result is less water in the bag at a faster rate. Now the bag needs a certain volume of water in it to make it function at its maximum. All that water loss compromises the bag’s function. Not even going to think about the way that changes the concentration of electrolytes and blood ph.

I don’t know of too many riders, aside from the endurance folk, who even think about dehydration as a contributing factor to a poor performance in the ring or on the trail. A number of riders add electrolytes when their horses are sweating. I sure do, and do you know how I add those electrolytes? I add them with a cup of high protein grain so the boys will eat it. I feel my head molding to the shape of Homer Simpson’s –– DOLT. I just gave them a supplement to help them keep and retain water in a supplement that will make them eliminate water.  ( for the science bent- I am well aware of the other functions of electrolytes- I’m just dealing with hydration at the moment.)

We are heading into our cold months here in Jersey. Indian Summer will keep the grass strong and growing for another 2-3 weeks and then the rich green will die off and the smell of ammonia will dissipate. I’ll have the whole winter to ponder the problem. A lot will depend on the climate. Another great growing season means I really have to do something. If the rains stop early and the sun dries up the grasses, I’ll be able to skate by. Whatever the outcome, I am putting “Hydration” on my list of suspects next time my guys just aren’t “right.” I hope my son does too.

Feeling worn out in Iraq

Feeling worn out in Iraq

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