Polo Times’ top tips for hot horses
With the hottest days this year upon us, it is important to think about how to keep your ponies cool at home, on the way to polo and pre-and post-polo. Aside from being uncomfortable, this warm weather can cause overheating which, if not spotted, can be fatal for ponies or cause long-term damage. Polo Times has caught up with Guards Polo Club’s onsite vet and welfare officer, Holly Baird to offer some helpful hints for hot horses. Holly commented that her all-time top tip would be, “To consider cooling ponies by showering them on arrival at the ground, especially if the journey has been long and they have raised a sweat. They will be refreshed before they play and the risk of heat exhaustion will be reduced”.
How to spot a pony struggling with heat stress:
1. Rapid respiratory rate
2. Increased body temperature
3. Profuse sweating
4. Ataxia (unsteadiness on feet)
5. Agitation, represented by: head shaking, tail swishing and scratching at the ground. Some ponies will display uncharacteristic aggression such as striking out or kicking.
If severe, or left untreated, these signs can progress to the point where the horse collapses. If you do notice these signs then you should call your vet and, while you are waiting for them to come, try and cool your pony down with repeated hosing or with buckets of water in the absence of a hose. Try and get them to a shaded area if they will walk. When you vet arrives they may recommend intravenous fluid and electrolyte therapy and/or electrolytes and water via stomach tube.
Points for prevention:
Ponies that are to play in more than one chukka should be quickly refreshed in order for them to recover adequately to perform in a second chukka. If you or your groom has time in-between chukkas, remove the saddle and bridle before sponging with cool water and walking around. If time is an issue then girths should be well loosened and nosebands released and the skin sponged around the tack. Cool water, applied where blood vessels course close to the skin (ie on the neck and between the hind legs), as well as sponging water into the ponies mouth are effective ways to refresh hot ponies quickly.
Once ponies have finished playing the best thing to do is take all their tack off and shower the whole pony down as quickly as possible. As soon as the ponies have stopped blowing they should be offered cool water from a fresh bucket. Allow them frequent small sips of water during the recovery period. Allow them to quench their thirst fully before they are loaded onto the lorries to return to your stables.
If it is especially hot, or you have travelled a great distance to polo, consider cooling horses on arrival, before playing. A quick shower with cool water, followed by sweat scraping is sufficient to revive hot ponies so they can begin the chukka refreshed.
Holly also points out that you should, “Bring your own water buckets. Do not allow ponies to drink from communal troughs as they are rarely hygienically cleaned and carry the saliva and sweat of every pony which has already put its muzzle in the water, which is a potential source of infection and disease.”
Don’t forget about your other four-legged friends of the canine variety; travelling in trucks and cars will be hot for them and they will also need shade and plenty of water when they go to polo.
Photograph: Washing down ponies before, during and after polo will help to prevent heat stress. By ©www.imagesofpolo.com