Written by: Wendy LaFond
Cooling down your horse properly after a strenuous activity is just as important as warming up before. To ensure the health and well being of your mount a good exercise regime is imperative. Just as we have a warm up and cool down period when we workout, so do horses need the same.
To begin the cool down a fifteen minute walk will get his body temperature returning to normal. Loosen the saddle cinch without removing the saddle right away. This will allow the air to cool his back slower, which helps to prevent cramps. A horse left to stand after strenuous exercise may experience swelling around the lower leg joints caused by a decrease in circulation.
Give your horse a minimal amount of cool water to drink, wait a few minutes, and then you can give him some more. Limit his intake of cool water as too much too fast can bring on cramping. Just as we should not drink really cold fluids when our body is hot neither should your horse.
A curry comb through his coat or a brisk rub with a towel to dry him is usually sufficient for the warm weather times. If your horse seems to be having a hard time cooling down you can rinse him down with cool water then dry him again.
The cool down period is essential in training to prevent exhaustion and injury. It gives the horse a time to relax and the trainer a chance to go over the exercises and decide where to go next in the training regimen. On hot, sunny summer days you might both enjoy seeking the shade of a nearby tree or similar cover.In cold weather the cool down becomes even more important. Even in very low temperatures a horse will get overheated and sweaty due to the size of their body and metabolic rate. At this time the cool down period is not only imperative, but should be carried out with extreme care. A sweaty horse left to dry in the winter can suffer severe physical problems such as pneumonia and other respiratory ailments. Walking to bring down the body temperature, heart, and breathing rates is a must. Have on hand a cooler or blanket to cover him during the remainder of the drying out process. If you blanket your horse in the winter be sure you put a dry one on before you return him to the barn.
In the winter it is also a good idea to provide your cooled down horse with a healthy sized flake of hay. Grass hay is preferable as it is higher in fiber than alfalfa hay. The higher fiber digestion process will aid him in staying warm and warding off a chill.
If you have trailered your horse to the workout area, be sure to dry him and walk him before returning him to the trailer for the ride home. Pay close attention to the lower legs as snow can build up and then melt in the trailer leaving it slippery and unsafe. It is a good idea to put down a layer of wood shavings on your trailer floor for the safety of horse and human alike. Be sure to blanket him for the ride home. A breathable material such as wool or fleece is preferable as it will aid your horse in the cool down process. Non-breathing blankets will actually retain the moisture on your horse and leave him feeling wet and cold. You should blanket a sweaty horse for a trailer ride even in the summer as the wind through the trailer slats can cause a chill in warm weather as well. Be sure to give him a good rub down and ensure he is dried well when you get home.
Properly cooling down your horse after strenuous activity is necessary for his health and well being. It also provides a great time for bonding with him as touch is a major factor in the bonding experience.