Smoke on the Water
What led to me deeply considering 5 climate change issues for your horse? On June 22, 2019, The Vancouver Sun issued an article warning the city’s inhabitants of the imminent danger of smoke inhalation. Our city is building ‘respite areas’ that will offer clean and fresh air during the summer. This coastal region of British Columbia, where we live, is a temperate rain forest. A rain forest where record-breaking temperatures are soaring, drought threatens, and wildfires burn out of control. To seek relief in the city is one thing, but to be out in the country, where it’s happening, is likened to doubling the speed on the clock of your lifeline. Like all living beings, our horses, too, are snared in the relentless net of climate change.
Hot summers hail in the smoky fire season. Not only are the pastures, barns, and fences at risk of scorching to the ground, but so are our animals. Respiratory tract and overall health depletion are the minimal results. Fallout from our topsy-turvy climate change contrast fires and excessive heat with floods and unseasonably cold temperatures.
Looking at my horses in the mix of the lavish summer landscape and amber afternoon sun, I am challenged to pick out the difference between them and the trees. They stand still, inanimate until a tail whoosh accompanies a leg stomp. Then still again – air traveling through nostrils, filling lungs and leaving again, rhythmic fragments of the environment that surrounds them.
“Horses make a landscape look beautiful.” — Alice Walker
Wind currents change, and in a blink of an eye they thunder off, snorting and bucking. That natural flush envelopes me, crazy delight when I watch them run. This time tinged with sadness as I am increasingly aware that conditions are not moving in their favor. Their world and ours are becoming more vulnerable every day. Fortunately, there are a few ways to lessen the impact. Prevention and preparation are our friends.
Here are your five considerations:
TOO MUCH CHANGE
Extreme, unexpected, and extended weather changes have a significant effect on a horse’s physical and emotional health. A drastic change in their environment elevates their levels of stress. Their survival instincts are triggered and, as with any creature, threatened survival is stressful! You can tone it down by keeping the things you can control consistent. Feeding times, immediate living environment, exercise intensity and regimes as well as turn-out schedules provide your horses with something to count on. When tumultuous rains take the place of what should be a warm summer season, the world can seem ominous. Horses take comfort in consistency.
TOO MUCH SUN
Dehydration, water shortage, poor air quality and too much dust are just some of the issues that come with excessive heat. Providing shade is significantly essential. There’s not much to be done when the air quality plummets irretrievably. Fire is a force that’s hard to reckon with. Most of us couldn’t possibly provide HEPA filters and ‘respite areas’ for our horses. Nature provides trees and foliage which help air quality tremendously. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and other toxins, help cool the environment and emit organic compounds that help form ozone and carbon. Plant some trees while you still can. When seeding your fields, choose drought-tolerate turf and ground cover for grazing. I find comfort when I am doing something to prepare for the other things of which I have no control.
TOO MUCH WATER
The rain won’t stop. There are channels of water gushing where they don’t belong, and the water troughs are overflowing. If this is your area, you’ll need to make sure your horses can get out of the mud and moisture. Excess moisture in the hoofs can lead to a multitude of problems. The hoof starts to act like a sponge. It expands and becomes soft and mushy, prone to infectious diseases like thrush. I have seen soles deteriorate entirely. You must provide an area for the hooves to dry out. Build some drainage. Standing water is a haven for insects. Apple Cider Vinegar is an excellent natural insecticide and can be used both internally in the feed or water and sprayed externally on the horse or insect breeding ground.
Consult with your trimmer and make her aware of the conditions, so she can monitor hoof changes and make any adjustments. Protect those hoofs and help them maintain their integrity and strength by using your Cavallos either for poultices, elevation from the elements, preserving hoof dressings or keeping hoofs dry. Remember, you can easily block the drainage holes in your Cavallos with duct tape when required.
TOO MUCH HEAT
When allowed to acclimatize, a healthy horse has a natural ability to regulate his body temperature. Problems develop when change happens too rapidly. If overnight, the temperatures soar, his respiration and heart rate may rapidly accelerate. The hair follicles are not conditioned to raise and provide an appropriate layer of insulation. He is sweltering in the heat and needs time to adjust. Keep plenty of fresh water available and give him salt to keep him drinking and electrolytes to restore what he perspires. Fans are perfect machines to help circulate and cool the air. Keep exercise to a minimum. Cut back on the feed and just let him adjust without asking too much of him.
TOO MUCH COLD
Protection and comfort are crucial. Your job is to provide a way to defend against the wind and other extreme effects of plummeting temperatures. The combination of cold, wet, and wind can be deadly. Make sure your horse has the option to seek shelter. Give him more to eat so he can adequately maintain his body temperature while burning up calories. Make sure the water is a drinkable temperature. No – horses do not eat snow. Blanket only when necessary so as not to compromise their innate ability to raise hair follicles to insulate their bodies. Even a small light element can help your horse make the transition to the cold. If you provide a heater, keep it on low and phase it out as your horse acclimatizes.
Landscape in motion, horses gently moving through the environment like a light breeze, cooling on a hot day. Then, in a flash, they’re whipping into their power – forceful beasts that take off at forty miles per hour. Tremendous power. We watch their ebbs and flows as they play their perfect melodies, always in harmony with nature. If you close your eyes just a little and drift, you can almost see the waves of the ocean flowing across their body as their muscles ripple in motion. They charge across the field in a fury with the force of a tsunami, then rest and gaze, still as a serene, glassed pond. This dichotomy of nature’s gentle influence is revered in the majesty that is Equus.
Weather The Storms
“When God wished to create the horse, he said to the South Wind, ‘I shall create thee a new being, and I will make him good fortune for my followers, humiliation to my enemies and protection for the obedient.’ And the wind said, ‘Create!’ God condensed the wind and made from it a horse.”
— Emir Abd-el-Kader
All beings on the planet are experiencing significant climate change. Rather than be fearful or feel hopeless; take steps to lessen our carbon footprint, and to help our horses adjust to their changing environment. We will keep them healthy, resilient, and comfortable. There is no point in trying to avoid the discomfort of change. It is here now. As horse people, we have the strength and integrity to weather the storms.
Wishing you many happy trails where the air is fresh,