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Manage Summer Work with Horses: A few guidelines to beat the heat

Updated: Jun 13

Oftentimes, during this time of year, equine business practitioners who find themselves outside most of the day start to think about the summer heat. Below, find a few tips and guidelines to help manage your business through the heat of summer: 


Follow the OSHA Heat Index Guidelines and App

To make a clear and concise guideline for myself, horses, and clients/students alike I follow OSHA’s Heat Index and the below guidelines for summer. Working in full sunlight can increase heat index values by 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep this in mind if you work or train in an outdoor arena (that arena sand can make it feel even hotter for everyone) and plan additional precautions for working in these conditions. Because I teach a lot of kids in direct sunlight in an outdoor arena, at Little Bird Farm the heat index level that I cut lessons off at is 115.

Heat Index Impact to Horses

To keep track of this, I use the OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool, which takes into consideration your current or input location’s temperature and humidity percentage throughout the day to calculate the heat index hour-by-hour for up to 12 hours. This location-based mobile app provides vital safety information whenever and wherever you need it. The app allows you and your clients to calculate the heat index for your location both currently and as expected throughout the day. Based on the heat index, the app displays a risk level to outdoor workers. Then, with a simple "click," you can get reminders about the protective measures that should be taken at that risk level to protect yourself, your horses, and your clients from heat-related illness - things like reminders about drinking enough fluids, scheduling rest breaks, planning for and knowing what to do in an emergency, adjusting work operations, gradually building up the workload for new students/horses, training on heat illness signs and symptoms, and monitoring each other for signs and symptoms of heat-related illness. 


Learn more and get the OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool app here

OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool app

What to Keep On Hand to Manage Summer Heat with Horses

During the summer I keep a few things around the farm for horses, students, and myself. Depending on your business structure, not all of these may apply. Feel free to take what works for you from the list and leave the rest.


For Horses: 

  • Electrolytes in their grain to encourage them to drink enough during hot days

  • A bucket with cold water and sponge so students can sponge off their horses after a sweaty ride

  • A bucket of clean and cold water for horses to drink (consider keeping one by the arena for particularly hot lessons)


For Humans: 

  • Electrolytes - taken in my first bottle of water in the morning to help me start my day off more energetic and hydrated. After trying a few different electrolyte packets and tablets, Nuun Hydration Tablets are my favorite. I also keep Propel powder electrolyte packets in my farm first aid kit for kids in my summer camp and lesson programs. 

  • Bottles of water - key for me and my students/clients. I don’t love the waste of plastic water bottles but in the summer I typically keep a flat in the tack room so no one runs the risk of dehydration. 

  • Cooling towels for the face, neck, and other hot body parts - Just rinse them under water and wring them out a few times. These have come in handy more than once when I’ve had long hot days on the farm or students out who are particularly sensitive to the heat. I typically keep them  by our farm sink and let students know so that they are empowered to pull them out and use them as they feel inclined to. While these aren’t the exact cooling towels I have, mine are also in a case like this, making them easier to store when clean at a hot and dusty barn. 

  • Sunscreen - I keep sunscreen on hand for myself and for clients/students. I would rather ensure I have what students need than have them get sunburned and be in pain as a result of coming out to their lesson. While I remind students to wear sunblock and pack a water bottle, I’d rather be safe and have backup supplies than risk their getting dehydrated or badly sunburned while out at the barn. If you have not tried Trader Joes Daily Facial Sunscreen, I highly recommend it. It goes on velvety, doesn’t get in your eyes, and doesn’t clog your skin. It is the knock-off to Supergoop’s Unseen Sunscreen at about ⅓ the price.

  • A helmet visor - This is stored on a hook with my helmets for any of my students to use. I have two, as I teach mostly beginners in private and semi-private lessons. A great way to keep the heat of direct sun on students’ faces and out of their eyes while they ride. 

  • For myself, I am also a huge fan of Ariat Sun Shirts (the mesh paneling under the arms is absolutely amazing in the heat of the day and the thin material wicks away sweat), this adjustable wide brimmed hat to keep the sun off my face, and I lived in these Ariat Terrain VentTEK 360 Boots - which were breathable in the summer heat, comfortable enough to be on my feet all day in (I walk 15,000-18,000 steps a day on the farm in the summer), and have a great heel in case you need or want to hop on a horse during the course of your day, too. 


Do you have items you like to keep around the barn for horses and humans alike on hot days? Comment below and let’s help our fellow equine professionals ensure they have a full arsenal of tools at their fingertips to beat the heat this summer.


Scheduling Appointments/Lessons for Everyone’s Comfort

Little Bird Farm is located in the Pacific Northwest. While we definitely have our fair share of hot days in the summer, I know there are several areas all over the country with more restrictive heat than we have here. Nonetheless, our humidity is surprisingly high with the intersection of a few major rivers so we still need to be mindful of the OSHA Heat Index and scheduling summer activities accordingly. Be mindful of your area and what may work best for you and your clients. A few ideas can be found below:


  • Move lesson/appointment times to before and after typical dangerous heat times in your area. 

In Oregon our summer heat peaks at about 3pm each day.. This means that teaching from about 1pm-5pm can be a regular challenge; especially because my arena is outdoors in full sun in the summer with no shade. Rather than cancel several lessons week after week, I adjust the Little Bird Farm schedule. In May I send a google form to all current students/parents to enable them to fill in all of the summer lesson times for which they are available. The lesson schedule usually comes out in early June to kick off the week after our local public school district goes on summer break: 


7:30am - 8:30am: Lessons 

Surprisingly, this is my most popular summer lesson time every year

9am - 12pm: Summer Camp

12:00pm - 12:30pm: A quick lunch (usually on the go)

12:30pm - 1:30pm: Lessons 

Typically I work with parents to fill this lesson spot with students who are less susceptible to heat so we have a lower likelihood of cancellations

1:30pm - 5:00pm: Farm chores and/or run errands

This usually keeps me in the barn, playing with water (filling water buckets and making grain), or in the truck with the air conditioning

5pm - 6pm: Lessons

7pm - 8pm: Dinner 

7pm - 8pm: Lessons


If you teach and have more students than lesson spots, you may need to double up on lessons. I have found that historically if you explain to people that you are doing this through the summer to enable everyone to spend less time in the heat they tend to be pretty understanding and accommodating. I also invoke a unique summer schedule rule. The horses still need to eat year-round. To avoid having lessons canceled due to travel, summer plans, and other unique warm weather / summer break activities I institute a 2-lesson max cancellation rule in the summer. A student who misses more than two lessons in the summer will be dropped from my lesson program and the spot given to a new student, to be re-addressed based on availability in the fall when my schedule re-adjusts with the school schedule. This incentivises my students to either attend lessons or pay to hold their spot so that they can ensure their lessons continue in the new school year. With a waiting list for my lesson program within 10 months of its inception, and throughout my first summer, filling lesson slots has never been a challenge. This same principle can be applied to winter lessons if you are prone to cancellations due to weather. One of these days I’ll do an exhaustive list of unmounted lesson ideas for our community, you, but in the meantime HorseSense Learning Levels has a great list of ideas if you are having trouble coming up with some on your own.


  • Instructors, teach unmounted lessons on really hot days

Despite our best efforts to avoid scheduling our work during the hottest parts of the day, sometimes missing those high heat index times is unavoidable. At Little Bird Farm, on particularly hot days I’ll teach unmounted lessons. A few great ones are: Equine First Aid 101 (our cross ties are covered so it lets everyone stay in the shade), bath time (a fun one for horses and humans alike), and horse show grooming day (pull out all the stops - shine those coats, braid manes and tails, and have a blast). This ensures commitment from your clients and that you get paid for your time in spite of the weather.


  • If you can and want to, take a break through the hottest months

In many parts of the country, given the consistent and enduring heat, equine business practitioners who cannot reschedule to get out of the really rough hours will pause their programs for a short duration (anywhere from a few weeks to two months).


  • Equine practitioners, consider your environment

Do you travel from barn to barn with your business? This is a pretty common practice for many bodyworkers, vets, chiropractors, and other equine practitioners. Looking toward summer appointments, consider the location and how well it is set up to get out of the summer heat. If a facility is in full sun, look to schedule that client’s summer appointment(s) in the mornings or early evenings when things have cooled off a bit. If the barn has covered facilities and they currently see you in the morning, push them toward the warmer parts of the day for their summer appointment so that you can ensure you’re in a more comfortable environment and can show up at your fullest potential as a result; we all do when we’re more comfortable.


What’s a great way you like to schedule your appointments or lessons to beat the heat in your area? Let us know in the comments!


Below you will find a sample communication you can use with clients and customers to set the standard for particularly hot spells in the summer. Feel free to tailor it to your specific program or business. 


Happy Riding!

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We Follow OSHA Heat Index Guidelines for Summer Work with Horses

 

It looks like next week will be a hot one. If you have a lesson, please come prepared with water, sunscreen, and appropriate attire. I will have some water and sunscreen on site for those who need it, however quantities are limited. I know it's tempting to wear shorts on hot summer days. While comfortable for general wear, please do not wear them to the barn. Pants and boots with a small heel are still required for riding. Shorts create opportunities for chaffing and pinching when combined with a riding saddle - no fun for anyone!

 

We will be holding lessons this summer in accordance with the OSHA/NIOSH heat index. Lessons will be unmounted or can be rescheduled when the heat index is high (a heat index score of 115+), for the safety of riders and horses.


Happy Riding!

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If you have questions, want help with your business operations, or need help finding resources don’t hesitate to reach out. Little Bird Advising offers business coaching for equine business owners like you!


Blog posts from Little Bird Advising are not meant to replace individual professional legal advice.

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