How to Cool Down a Hot Horse After Riding

Updated May 16, 2023
steam rising from hot horse back

Like any athlete, cooling horses down properly is an important part of the recovery process after exercise. How much time it takes for this process depends on three variables; the external temperature, the fitness of your horse, and the particular workload for that day. Keep reading to learn how to cool down a horse after riding in warm or cold temperatures.

Cooling Down in Cold Weather

When your ride is finished, you should always go for a quiet walk for 10 minutes or until your horse’s breathing rate has returned to normal. If you are hand-walking, loosen the girth and noseband to allow the horse to relax. When breathing is normal, take the horse inside and throw a breathable rug over the hindquarters while untacking. Some people leave on the saddle pad so the horse's back does not get a chill. This is a good alternative if a blanket is not on hand.

If the horse is not lathered in sweat, use rubbing alcohol and towels to dry him and remove any saddle, girth, or bridle marks. Once dry, he can be fully groomed, blanketed, and returned to his stall.

Should the horse come in somewhat sweaty, take a bucket of warm water and alcohol and sponge the horse down to remove sweat and dirt. Next, towel dry and put him away with an Irish knit underneath a wool cooler. This double layer has a great wicking effect and dissipates water vapor through the layers. The Irish knit remains dry next to the horse’s skin, preventing chills. It is important to check for dryness. You may need to exchange the top layer once you see the moisture on top.

If the situation allows, give the horse lukewarm drinking water. Most horses will drink warm water more quickly in the winter.

Video on How to Cool Down Your Horse in the Winter

Hot Weather and Strenuous Exercise Cool Downs

When a horse finishes a strenuous workout, such as a cross-country course, he breathes hard, and his internal temperature rises. To cool down, remove all tack and equipment so there is as much airflow and evaporation across the horse’s body as possible. 

horse being hosed off with water

Then wash the horse with cool water and immediately scrape off the water. Scraping is essential as leaving water on will heat the horse more and negatively impacts the cool down process. The horse would then be walked in the shade. Repeat washing, scraping, and walking until breathing and temperature are normal. You can feel their chest to gauge temperature if a thermometer is unavailable. 

It is essential to know your horse’s normal temperature, before and after exercise, before a major competition. You should know if they are prone to finishing at a high temperature. This can help you plan your cool down process efficiently. 

Some cross-country horses will finish a course with a temperature over 104. If this is common for your horse, have buckets of iced water ready to start the cool down process as soon as possible. Extremely high temperatures are dangerous for the horse’s internal organs. Washing, scraping, and repeating this process should start immediately after finishing a round. 

Horses should be offered water in small amounts at short intervals during cool down. Hay should be given at least one hour after cool down. You should wait at least two hours before feeding grain. If your horse wants to nibble some grass while they cool down, that is not a problem.

Monitoring Your Horse During Cool Down

Observing your horse after you think they have cooled off is important. Some will start having a high respiration rate and possibly sweat again. If you notice this, you must start the cool down process again until the horse is comfortable and all vitals are normal. As with just about any horse situation, call the vet when in doubt!

The information provided in the Horsemanship Library is based solely on our SmartPak authors' opinions. SmartPak strongly encourages you to consult your veterinarian or equine professionals regarding specific questions about your horse's health, care, or training. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or behavior and is purely educational.