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Cooling Out a Hot Horse


What are your methods/process for cooling out a hot horse (down to the details like slowly loosening the girth, leaving the saddle pad on for a few minutes while you un-tack so the back doesn’t get cold, etc.)? – Jessica N. from Halifax, MA

Like any human athlete, cooling horses down properly is a very important part of the recovery process after exercise. How much time it takes for this process depends on three variables, the external temperature, the fitness of your horse and the particular workload for that day.

Colder Weather
When your ride is finished you should always go for a quiet walk for 10 minutes, or until your horse is not blowing hard. If I’m taking a horse from a rider and the horse stills needs to walk, I like to loosen the girth and noseband to allow the horse to relax. When breathing is back to normal, I take the horse inside and throw a breathable rug over his hindquarters whilst untacking. Some people leave on the saddle pad so the horses back does not get a chill, if a blanket is not at hand then this is a good alternative.

If the horse is not very sweaty then I use rubbing alcohol and towels to dry him and remove any saddle, girth or bridle marks. Once dry, he can be fully groomed, rugs replaced and put back in his stall.

Should the horse come in somewhat sweaty, I will take a bucket of warm water and alcohol and sponge the horse down to remove sweat and dirt. I will then towel dry him, and put him away with an Irish knit underneath a wool cooler. This double layer has a great wicking effect, by allowing water vapor to breath through the layers. The irish knit should remain dry next to the horse’s skin to prevent him from getting chills. It is important to check for dryness, you may need to exchange the top layer once you see the moisture sitting on top.

If the situation allows, I try to give the horse a lukewarm bucket of drinking water, in winter I find they will drink more this way (though I know not all barn set up allow for this!).

Hot Weather & Strenuous Exercise
When a horse finishes a hard workout — e.g a gallop or XC course — he will be blowing hard and his internal temperature will have risen. I remove all tack and equipment immediately so there can be as much airflow and evaporation across the horse’s body as possible. I then wash the horse down with cold water and immediately scrape off the water. The horse would then be walked, if possible all this should be done in the shade, or somewhere where there is a breeze. This process of wash, scrape, walk is repeated until the horse has stopped blowing and his temperature is back to normal. If no thermometer at hand, you can touch their chest to feel how much they are cooling. Also the water being scraped off will eventually be cold once the horse is cooled off.

It is important to know your horse’s normal temperature, before and after exercise, before a major competition. I feel you should take his temperature after your gallops and smaller shows. You should know whether or not your athlete is prone to finishing at a high temperature. This can help you plan your cooling out process efficiently. In my experience, I have had completely fit horses finish XC with temperatures above 104. Knowing this was common for these horses, I would have buckets of iced water as close to the finish as possible so that I could be starting the process of cooling whilst other people were removing tack. Extremely high temperatures are dangerous for the horse’s internal organs, these horses need to be taken to the shade, and washed down with ice water, scraping the water off immediately after putting it on is imperative. And scraping is essential — leaving water on only heats the horse up more and has a negative effect on the cooling out process.

It is important to watch your horse carefully after you think they have cooled off. Some will start to have a high respiration rate and possibly start to sweat again. If you notice this, then you will need to start the cooling out process again until the horse is comfortable and all vitals are back to normal. As with just about any horse situation — when in doubt, call the vet!

I believe in allowing horses to drink as much water as they want when they finish XC. I offer them small amounts at short intervals. Hay is given at least one hour out after cooling down, I will not feed grain for at least two hours. If the horse is interested in grass whilst cooling out I let them nibble, it’s 80% water so should not cause any problems.

Happy competing this summer, and stay cool!!!

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14 comments on “Cooling Out a Hot Horse
  1. Meghan says:

    This is a very interesting article. Usually when cooling down a horse, I take my feet out of the stirrups, give them a free rein, and ride them at the walk for 10-15 minutes. Then if he/she is still hot after that, then I will walk them before sponging down. I’ve never heard of leaving the saddle pad on though, that’s pretty neat. 🙂 Thanks for writing another great article.

  2. Celia says:

    Nice article. I live in Florida where most of our cooling out process is hot weather so this is good info. I usually also remove all tack before sponging down after walking.

  3. Gillian says:

    This is a great article! Thanks so much for sharing! Summer is a very strenuous time for my boy since he is used in my barn’s summer program and camp and knowing how to cool him *correctly* will help me sleep better at night, and keep him more comfortable on those hot days. Thanks SmartPak!

  4. Haskin says:

    Good article. Probably the most important thing you can do for your horse. I think it is very important to make sure their flanks are still after activity before heading to the water hose too!

  5. Cooling out a horse is sometimes critical and you need to understand a horse behavior just giving them a shower and sponge is sometimes not enough.

  6. bettylion says:

    I had never heard of using alcohol to dry the horse in the winter. Neat tip. (I was always just towel-rubbing incessantly!) What about maybe using a blow dryer for stubborn sweaty spots? Also, I’ve always been confused about winter clipping. I always let my horses grow a full coat rather than a trace or hunter clip because even when blanketing, certain spots are left uncovered (like the underside of neck with trace clip) and I worried that they would be cold.

  7. Lynne Rodgers says:

    I have an older horse who has developed some sort of arthritis in his left knee. It has become quite enlarged but does not seem to be hot or swollen, although there are times I think I can feel some fluid on the inside. I have had him xrayed and the diganosis is that he is laying bone down and it is going to continue that way. He was put on bute daily and for the most part moves well but he is leaning more on his other leg that is cauing his foot to split and become mishapen. I feed a high quality feed (suppose to supplement for this kind of problem) and he is on open pasture, but is ther something more I can do for him? Would putting shoes on the front help? I just can’t help but think there is something mor I should be doing for him to help ease any pain or at least arrest the growth of the bone.

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Lynne, thank you for your question! We’re sorry to hear about your horse’s knee, and we hope to provide some resources that might give you some more information. Below I’ve included a link to an article that focuses on joint health which may be appropriate for your horse’s situation. It’s possible that a joint supplement might be able to support the health of his joints and help manage discomfort. We recommend you have a conversation with your veterinarian about the role an oral joint supplement might play in conjunction with his current program. It’s also a good idea to loop your farrier in on the conversation, as you mentioned! We hope that’s helpful. – Dr. Lydia Gray

      Equine Health Library- Arthritis and Joint Health:

  8. Paige says:

    In hot weather, always cool a horses blood stream down first – hose the juggler and inside of the back legs and never run cold water over a hot horses back or muscles – instant spasms!

  9. JB Eventer says:

    Thanks for the info. Can you explain more about the use of alcohol? What type? How much etc? I haven’t heard of this method before.

    • Hannah says:

      You can go to CVS and get rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle for only a couple dollars. I had never heard of this either until I went to an eventing barn and that is what they used. It works surprisingly well, you only need to spray enough for it to be damp, not wet, you can always spray more later. Then you just use a towel or a brush, this also works well on poop stains, just spray it on a towel first.

  10. kelly says:

    We have never hosed or alcohol for cooling off. We get done, saddle off, cooling blanket or pad on, walk around arena once or small field an let them drink 5-6 swallows then keep doing that till they dont want anymore(could colic if u let them drink all they want at once) an keep walking till there cold if damp then another blanket goes on before they go to there stall . We dont feed anything at shows and water is only a couple of swollows couple times (runners or any other athletics dont eat hambugers or drink bottles of liquid during compitations)after we cool out (see above) then trailer ride home they get little hay an nothing for hour or so after we get home. And fed 2 hrs in am before trailer ride or any ride

    • AG says:

      You are working off of some outdated information. It has been shown that horses can drink as much water as they need right away after workout without ill affect. You should also not withhold feed from a horse at a show. They are already stressed and are foraging animals. They are designed to have food in their bodies nearly constantly.

  11. Emilie says:

    In hot weather and strenuous activity, I would take all the gear off, then walk him around for a bit and then sponge him down. It’s not very safe to hose a horse down in very cold water right after a run. If it is extremely necessary I would start with Luke warm water first then go slowly colder.

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