A diverse group of equine enthusiasts escaped the high temperatures in Lexington, KY, for an air-conditioned evening attending the summer session of the Kentucky Equine Networking Meeting (KENA). Presented by the Kentucky Horse Council and held at The Red Mile Clubhouse, a panel of horse-care experts gathered to discuss a topic that has been at the forefront of many horse owner's minds this summer: How to help their horses cope with the oppressive heat and humidity in Central Kentucky.
Though the spring of 2019 began with an extensive amount of rain, moisture in the Bluegrass this summer been minimal, and the heat has come on with an intensity that's been difficult to tolerate for even the most-acclimated horses and humans. Exacerbating the issue is the intense humidity that has enveloped most of the state.
Dr. Bob Coleman, an equine extension specialist with the University of Kentucky, spoke to attendees about temperature and its effect on horses, both while they are in the field and when they're asked for physical exertion. He explained that temperature alone is not the only variable that can affect a horse's ability to sweat to keep itself cool: humidity, wind speed and the amount of sunshine also affects heat dissipation in horses.
The temperature and the relative humidity as a percentage can be combined to calculate the comfort index for horses, Coleman explained. This number will assist in determining if it's too hot to exercise a horse. If the sum is below 130, thermoregulation should not be a concern. When the comfort index is between 130 and 150, horses will sweat, but they can exercise without major problems. When the comfort index exceeds 150 and the humidity is greater than 75 percent, heat dissipation may be an issue and riders should monitor their horses carefully. If the comfort index exceeds 180, a horse should not exercised, as it will be unable to dissipate enough heat to stay safe.
Nicole Bianco, a registered dietitian and graduate assistant with UK athletics, addressed potential human-specific issues when working or riding in the heat. Dehydration is a serious concern for anyone exerting themselves in heat and humidity, she said. Dehydration can present as dizziness, fatigue or nausea, and can lead to decreased stamina and make people more-prone to injury. She suggested that people who will be working or exercising in the heat hydrate first with water, but they can also drink milk, juice, sports drinks or tea. Eating fruits and veggies that contain a lot of water will also help replace fluid lost to sweat. Paying attention to how one feels and acting accordingly is imperative for human safety when temperatures soar, Nicole said; this could include stopping work, getting out of the sun or entering an area with air conditioning.
Dr. Bruce Howard is the Interim Equine Medical Director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Howard addressed potential problems racehorses can encounter when racing during summer months. Howard noted that his main role is to keep both horses and humans safe; the decision to cancel racing is not one that is taken lightly, and he confers with stewards and track management when heat indices rise.
Ellis Park racetrack in Henderson, KY, sits in in a literally bowl of land, where the heat just sits on the track, Howard say. When it's 92 or 93 degrees outside and most other tracks are still running, Howard considers the weather conditions carefully: “If it's 92 or 93 out and there's no wind or clouds, it will be too hot to race at Ellis,” he says.
The “magical” heat index number for mandatory racing cancellation is 108 Howard says; at 105 track management gets worried. Horses do fine racing on hot tracks when they're given the opportunity to adapt, he notes. It's the horses that are not from the area that ship in to race that cause him concern. Howard keeps a close eye out for horses that are in heat distress; these horses will hold their ears to the side, have a dull eye, violently swish their tail and kick with their hind legs. A horse in heat distress won't drink, but the condition is rarely fatal when addressed as soon as possible, he explains.
The three KENA panelists provided attendees with useful information on how to keep themselves and their horses safe as temperatures continue to climb throughout the late-summer months.
The next KENA meeting will take place on November 12 at the Red Mile Clubhouse. Sponsors of the educational series include Dinsmore Equine Law Group, Neogen Corporation, Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital, University of Louisville Equine Industry Program, McBrayer Law Firm and Red Mile.
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