Just like for human athletes, cooling off your horse after an intense workout is an essential part of horse ownership. For most amateur riders, you won’t need to cool your horse after every ride, but if you’ve had an extreme ride and asked your horse to run, jump, or work intensely, you may need to cool them out before putting them back in their stall or pasture.

What is Cooling Off for Horses?

Sometimes called “cool down,” “cool off,” or “cool out,” this is a process of helping your horse transition from a hard workout to resting body. Like humans, if this transition is abrupt it can cause soreness and set up their body for injury in later workouts. Additionally, horses often need attention to their coats when they have sweat heavily. Read on to learn more.

Signs Your Horse Needs Cooled Off:

[important: these signs can exhibit in hot or cold weather!]

  • your horse is out of breath and breathing hard
  • your horse is sweating heavily
  • [winter only] your horse’s coat is damp from light sweat.

How to Cool Off A Horse after Exercise

This article will teach you how to cool an overheated horse in both the summer and in the winter, as the way to cool out a horse varies according to whether the ambient temperature is hot, cold, or moderate

Summer Cooling Out:

After an intense summer ride, your horse may be breathing heavy and sweating profusely. Take the time to end your ride with 5-10 minutes of walking on a loose rein to let the horse begin to catch their breath. After you have walked for several minutes and the horse’s breathing is mostly normal, you can dismount, tie your horse, and remove your tack.

Once untacked, this is a great time to hose your horse down. Hosing after a hot sweaty ride not only helps cool out an overheated horse, but also helps wash away the salty sweat residue that can dry out or even bleach your horse’s coat.

Although you might want to use cold water, you should use lukewarm water or tepid tap water. Begin by spraying the legs and after you’ve held a stream of water on the legs for a few minutes you can move the hose and begin spraying the rest of the horse’s body.

Some horses love to be hosed off so much that they don't need to be tied
Some horses love to be hosed off so much that they don’t need to be tied up

If you only have access to cold water (as is the case for some farms with well water only), it is VERY important to spray only the overheated horse’s legs for 3-5 minutes. Spraying the large muscles with a blast of cold water can make a horse’s muscles violently contract, potentially making them sick or sore. By spraying the horse’s legs, you cool the entire body by cooling the blood in the blood vessels that lie just under the surface of the skin. By spraying the legs, you can cool the blood which then circulates to the rest of the body, cooling the horse in a safe and slow manner.

After you hose them off you should use a sweat scraper or even a cupped hand to scrape excess water in their coat off. When water sits on hot skin, heat transfers to the water. By scraping the water off you can literally wipe some of the heat out of the horse’s body.

By the end of a 5-10 minute bath your horse should be much more comfortable.

If your horse is to be stalled you may want to hand graze the horse for 5-15 minutes to let them cool completely before being stalled. Horses turned out to pasture will typically complete the cooling process with ease, as their bodies move naturally during turnout. Don’t be surprised if your horse rolls the minute they are free- most horses can’t wait to roll after being hosed off with water!

Most horses will roll the minute they are turned loose after being cooled off
Most horses will roll the minute they are turned loose after being cooled off

 

Cooling Off Horses in Winter:

Cooling out in the winter time can be frustrating, but it doesn’t have to be! To avoid the process of cooling and then drying the horse’s coat after a ride, you can plan to make the process shorter: If you plan to ride your horse frequently through the winter, hard enough to work up a good sweat you may want to consider partially or fully clipping your horse.

Clipping refers to using clippers to remove the bulk of the winter coat, leaving shorter (and easier to dry) hair in its place. Clipping makes it easier to cool out your horse, but also means you will have to blanket according to the temperature all winter long.

To cool out an unclipped horse if the temperature is under 50° F:

If it’s cold and you’ve ridden your unclipped horse to the point of sweating and breathing heavily, end your ride with 5-15 minutes of walking. This is an excellent time to spend time practicing guiding your horse in zig zags and loops using only your legs (no hands!) or dropping your stirrups to practice your balance. If you’re feeling the intensity too, you can find stretches to do in the saddle so both you and your horse can cool down together.

winter riding creates challenges for dealing with sweaty horses
thick winter coats creates challenges for dealing with sweaty horses

After cooling out under saddle, dismount and unsaddle. You may want to use spare towels to towel dry sweaty areas if your horse is very wet from sweat.

As you might imagine, walking around with wet hair in very cold temperatures is no more fun for your horse than it would be for you, so cover your horse with a cooler to help prevent them from getting a chill and lead them at a walk for a few more minutes until the horse is breathing evenly. Coolers, unlike horse sheets or blankets, are made from special material that will help provide warmth while wicking moisture out of the coat.

horse wearing a large cooler
coolers keep horses warm while helping dry the coat

If you have a slightly warmer spot in your barn, your horse can stand in crossties under the cooler while you put away your tack and do barn chores. Remove the cooler a little at a time by folding down the front or flipping up the back. Your horse is ready to be turned back out or put into his stall when you can ruffle the fur and feel that the hair next to the skin is dry. You may blanket the horse, is needed, once dry but NEVER put a  blanket a wet horse! Doing so can impair their ability to stay warm and promote skin disease.

Conclusion

As you can see, the directions on how to cool a horse are not difficult. Cooling out an overheated horse can be a little time consuming, but proper cooling out practices will contribute to a healthier horse long term.

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