With the competition season on track and the weather warming up (promise it will….soon) Horse Scout Blogger has been thinking about the warm down after your horse has worked. Just like you he will be warm, his heart rate and respiration rate will be elevated. No matter what the season, when horses work hard they produce heat and sweat. Properly cooling down your horse will ensure he stays sound and healthy. A daily workout for your horse probably consists of four separate periods: warm-up, active conditioning or schooling, warm-down, and cool-down.
During warm weather training, the warm-down and cool-down periods are especially important because horses may be hot from conditioning exercises. The warm-down is the steady reduction in exercise intensity and usually consists of 5 to 10 minutes of low-intensity exercise that culminates in a relaxed walk. While horses will invariably sweat less as athletic effort decreases, the importance of a warm-down is more than skin deep. Foremost is the redistribution of blood within the body. When a horse is exercising, oxygenated blood is carried to the hardworking skeletal muscles, and other organs of the body receive slightly less blood than they normally do during periods of rest. As the warm-down period extends, more blood is allocated to those organs and less to skeletal muscle.
The cool-down is distinct from the warm-down period. The warm-down, as mentioned previously, occurs when mounted and ends with a relaxed walk on a loose rein. The primary objective of the cool-down is to prevent overheating following dismounting. The horse should be untacked immediately to allow maximum heat dissipation, and should be moved to a covered or shaded area with as much air movement as possible. One of the most common methods of cooling a horse in hot and humid environments includes spraying or sponging with cool water. Body-wide application of cool water is acceptable during normal summer weather when temperatures are between 80°-100°F. The most strategic points for effective cooling include the underside of the neck and barrel, and the inside of all four legs. Drinking water can be offered to the horse once cooling has begun, which is determined by a reduction in body temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate.
Allowing a few swallows every few minutes during the cool-down helps the horse replace water lost during exercise. Horses should be encouraged to drink their fill. When your horse sweats on a daily basis, even in cold weather, it is best to provide a supplemental electrolyte. Electrolytes replace the minerals lost in sweat and encourage drinking, which reduces the risk of dehydration and muscle disorders.
Proper care of a horse following a ride signifies sound horsemanship as well as a healthy dose of respect for your horse.