Summer vacation isn’t a term that ranch cowboys are familiar with. Just because the temperatures soar doesn’t mean the work comes to a halt. However, some of the most reliable workers, horses, need to have the best care possible to make sure they stay healthy. Shaun Strickland, managing partner at Poison Spider Cattle Co., offers tips to keeping horses cool on the ranch and on the road.
“The number one thing we do in the summer is we try to beat the heat. We try to work early, as far as the heavy horse work, we try to get it done first thing in the morning,” Strickland said. “The good thing about this country is the sun stays out so long. You can leave at 4:30 in the morning, and still see at 10 at night. Sometimes we come back out at 6 (p.m.) and work horses into the night. If you are stressing your horses and your cattle out, you’re just walking backwards.”
Although Strickland tries to complete his horseback work early in the day or in the evening, when temperatures are cool, he realizes that not everyone has the same extended hours of daylight they do under the big Wyoming sky. There are days he can’t avoid working on horseback throughout the hottest part of the day. For those times, Strickland offers some sound advice for caring for your horse.
- Strickland said if they are out gathering pastures in the heat of the day, they try to handle the cattle around water sources.
“We’ll move our cattle toward a waterer, give them a water break and give our horses a water break too.”
- Take a break. It’s important to give your horses a break from overheating, especially if they have been running, working hard or traveling up and down varied terrain. If you can, find a place for them to drink, dismount and loosen the cinch.
“If the horses get real hot, we’ll stop, uncinch and undo our back girth and lift the back of our saddle pad up to let the heat escape off the back of the horse, because that is where most of their heat is going to be because they are covered up with a wool saddle pad, and they got us sitting on top of it, so they hold a lot of heat in their back right there,” Strickland said.
- Use wool. Although Strickland has nothing against neoprene-based products, he said the best place to use them is in the show arena, and not during an 8-hour day on the ranch. Neoprene can physically burn a horse when it gets too hot, leaving white areas on the skin, and making the horse uncomfortable. That is why Strickland uses wool cinches and saddle pads that allow the heat to escape.
- Recharge with Vitalize® Equine Recovery Paste (transitioned to Vitalize® Equine Recovery Gel July 2019). As a Vitalize Ambassador, the one product that Strickland always makes sure to have on hand is the Equine Recovery Paste. After a long day of working cattle on the ranch or after hauling to a show or competing at a cutting, he gives the paste to his horses to help combat stress and keep their immune system functioning.
“It helps them recover from a long, hard, hot day. It helps them bounce back, helps them go to water, helps them go to feed. It’s like getting that shot when you go to the doctor, and you’re dehydrated.”
Going on the Show Road
In addition to using horses for daily ranch work, Strickland is an accomplished cutting horse trainer and competitor. He travels extensively to show in the some of the top competitions in the country and knows the importance of keeping his horses cool as they travel and when they arrive at the show.
Since they keep wood shavings in the trailer, Strickland said they will scatter a couple bags of ice among the shavings. As the ice melts, the shavings become wet and cool, and will cool the horses from the feet up. Once they arrive at their destination, they will make sure to provide plenty of fresh, clean water and put up fans for circulation. If the temperatures are extreme, they will soak the horses’ front feet and legs in cool water, to help cool them off without creating shock. And, of course, he makes sure to give the horses Vitalize Equine Recovery Paste after a long haul.
Equine enthusiasts can’t outrun the heat, but they can manage several ways to keep their horses cool and try to beat the heat around the ranch, farm and on the show road. Work your horse during the coolest part of the day, hydrate, take breaks and recharge with Vitalize to give your horse the #goodgutfeeling.