While many people think those of us who are horse-obsessed are crazy to ride when it’s so blessedly hot outside, we all know better: the horse world doesn’t stop, whether for heat, rain, cold or wind (or anything in between!). Though riding through August in the Bluegrass can bring its own set of challenges, whether it’s hydration, proper clothing or finding time during the coolest part of the day to ride, we wouldn’t change it for the world.
By Sarah E Coleman
Not all riders have the ability to ride before work before the heat really comes on, whether because of unusual work hours, the distance to the farm or because the farm amenities don’t support riding while it’s dark outside. If you’re forced to ride during the heat of the day, there are some precautions you can take to get the most out of every ride—even if it’s brutally hot outside.
One thing to note, however, is that there are going to be some days that are truly too hot to ride. While none of us like to lose training days, it’s more important that both you and your horse stay safe. Heat stroke—horse and human--is no joke and can have dire consequences.
The National Weather Service says that a heat indices of 102-124 degrees F are “dangerous”--so you should begin to contemplate not riding at all. If the heat index is 125 degrees F or higher, you shouldn’t ride at all, as both you and your horse become at risk for heat stroke, which is where the body loses the ability to regulate its temperature because of excessive heat.
Keeping Your Cool
So if you’re in the “safe” temperature zone to ride, but it’s still uncomfortably hot, consider these tricks to make your hack a bit more comfortable.
Hack in the woods. It can be up to 20 degrees cooler in the shade, so consider taking your horse out of the ring to walk on shady trails. A long hack, or one that involves hills, can make your horse exert himself physically, making him use his back and hind end, while not having the sun beating down on him.
Consider investing in clothing that’s made of technical fabrics. While it can seem silly at first to spend in upwards of $60 on a shirt you will get filthy at the farm, there really is something to be said about the wicking properties of the fabrics. More breathable than cotton, they can help keep you cooler; shirts with mesh under the arms also increase airflow. And don’t think you have to buy these shirts at a tack shop—Dicks, Target and even Wal-Mart usually have some clothing options in their athletic wear sections (might be a good excuse to check out the new outlet shops!).
Wear loose-fitting clothes and consider dampening your shirt before you get on if you’re not ready to take the splurge on a technical riding shirt. While this might not necessarily appropriate for group lessons, if you generally ride by yourself, wetting your shirt before you get on can be a lifesaver. And really, no one will know after about 10 minutes if your shirt is wet from water or sweat!
Investing in cooling vests and bandanas is also an option, though they, too, will wet the shirt you’re wearing. While helpful, they may warm up before you ride is over if you’re hacking for a longer period of time.
Purchase smaller summer wardrobe upgrades. While new, lighter-weight breeches may not be in your budget right this second, you can purchase breathable summer socks and even lighter-weight gloves to help get you through the dog days of summer.
Consider a vented helmet, if you’re in the market to buy a new one. While traditional black velvet caps are always in style, you’ll be amazed at how much cooler your head is if you wear a vented variety. If a new helmet isn’t in your budget, contemplate purchasing a helmet visor to keep the sun from beating on your face and chest.
Take water to the arena with you and be sure to sip it while you take walk breaks. While many sports drinks tout their hydrating properties, some of them are so sugary as to make you feel sick if you guzzle it while overly hot. Cut these drinks with straight water or a flavored water to dilute some of the sweetness.
While there are many options to help keep your cool, there’s bound to be some days where it’s just too hot to ride. Chilling out in front of a fan with your horse isn’t a wasted day—it’s simply more time for you to bond.