Cold Hose That Hot Back

One Important tip —

Help your Horse in Hot Weather 

If you were like me, somewhere along the line you’ve been told, “Don’t put cold water over your horse’s back or hind quarters if they’re hot from working!”  “They’ll cramp or seize up.” 

Spraying Cold Water on Horse's Shoulder

I would hose my horse’s legs after a long, hot trail ride, but never the back or glutes because (seriously!) I never wanted a horse’s muscles to seize up.

Now I know the truth.  What my teachers and friends had told me has been proven a myth.

I was in a class at Cal Poly Vet School in 2009, learning Equine Exercise Physiology from David Marlin, PhD of England.  (He wrote the book by the same title as the course.)  During the course he was lecturing about how to care for the equine athlete in extreme heat conditions, specifically the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, where he was on the medical team for all the elite horses in the competition.

He showed us thermal images and cited the data:

  • Temperatures of hot, worked horses were taken by blood draw, rectal thermometer, muscle tissue sample, and skin temp.
  • Ice Cold water was then poured over the horse, 34 degrees Farenheit, many gallons
  • Temps were taken again
  • There was no significant drop in muscle temperature, or core body temp
  • The biggest changes were to the skin temp and the blood temp

I sat in class, dumbfounded – don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this, but my mind was buzzing.  I finally got brave enough to raise my hand and ask, “Dr. Marlin, do you mean that it’s a myth that if I put cold water on a hot horse, their muscles will cramp up?”

He looked me straight in the eyes and said “Yes, that’s a myth.  The studies show that the muscles won’t cramp.”

Shoulder Cool, Back Still Hot & Dry

How I explain it now to clients and friends is that it’s similar to pouring water over a heater.  The water will evaporate, the cooling will happen for only a little while, and the heater will continue to put out the heat.  Same with the horse’s big muscles in their hind quarters.  The muscles are generating the heat, and will continue to generate the heat after the cold water is removed.

The reason to hose them is to cool their skin, and cool the blood that is coming to the skin surface.  When the blood veins bulge on any horse, this is the natural way for them to cool their own blood.  It comes away from the core of the body, to cool via evaporation from the sweating skin surface.  Sweat is another way for the body to cool itself.

I hope this has been good information for you.  I know your horse wants to be cooled when it is too hot.  Feel free to cold hose them all over after working on a wam day.

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