A lot of planning goes into an international sports competition, especially when one of the athletes is on four legs.
In August of 2021, we wrote an article about overseas competition, the health requirements to compete and the transportation process. There’s no doubt that these safety precautions and methods are important. However, the health considerations for a horse don’t end once the gold medal is given out. One of the most important parts of the horse and athletes’ health is an appropriate cooldown after exercising or competing.
The cooldown is a period of time where the athlete’s temperature comes down, breathing steadies and the heart rate goes back to normal. This should always take place after exercising. Increased movement causes oxygenated blood to move to the parts that are working the hardest, leaving the other organs to receive less blood1.
The horses’ typical body temperature rests between 99-101°F and any work will increase that temperature. Naturally, hard work also increases their breathing and heart rate. An effective cooldown means that their heartrate returns to less than 60 to 64 bpm, their temperature and breathing pattern returns to normal, and their chest is cool to the touch2. Skipping this step makes it much easier to pull a muscle or overheat. A proper cooldown allows them to avoid unnecessary visits to the veterinary3.
To cooldown, you should should gradually reduce the intensity of the workout and lead them into something like a relaxed walk. Then, untack the horse to allow the heat to dissipate quicker. Your horse may benefit from moving to an area with cooler air, depending on the climate. They can then be hosed down with cool water, set by a misting fan and offered water (with electrolytes!).
Proper care is important for all athletes – including your friends with hooves!