It’s 2:30, you’ve worked five horses, longed two, and now you have a private lesson showing up. Do you take a spare moment to return a phone call about that bay mare for sale, or rest in the shade with a big water bottle?
Your business manager side says, “Call the potential buyers back,” but what else are you hearing? Is your body beginning to resent the heat, making you irritable, maybe even a little dizzy or confused?
Sure, we watch horses closely for signs of trouble, but do we pay as much attention to ourselves and our clients?
Summer heat is a big safety issue. All it takes is one ambulance call to your farm for a fallen, heat-stressed rider and you’ll be wondering how to rebuild some professional credibility.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) says that accidents happen more frequently in hot environments than in temperate ones. “A hot environment lowers the mental alertness and physical performance of an individual,” says NIOSH. “Increased body temperature and physical discomfort promote irritability, anger and other emotional states which sometimes cause workers to overlook safety procedures or to divert attention from hazardous tasks.”
A person is more likely to be vulnerable to heat stress when they are taking certain medications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the risk for heat-related illness and death may increase among people using: (1) psychotropics, which affect psychic function, behavior or experience (e.g. haloperidol or chlorpromazine); (2) medications for Parkinson’s disease, because they can inhibit perspiration; and (3) tranquilizers such as phenothiazines, butyrophenones and thiozanthenes.
Whether your barn is in northern Maine or closer to Baja California, you know how summer heat can be—it either sneaks up on you during a busy day, or whaps you across the forehead the moment you open the door. But planning for it, through scheduling, clothing, facility changes, and supplies, can keep it from hurting you or your clients.
Sue Bargeloh, program director for the Challenge New Mexico North Mesa Riders handicapped program, says scheduling is a real key for success in avoiding heat stress. She schedules lessons for the late afternoon and evening. On the high mesas of northern New Mexico, evenings can be delightfully cool, even if daytime temperatures rise into triple digits.
With a full team of leaders and side-walkers working each rider’s lesson, there is a whole group of potentially overheated people to consider, so she says moderation is the key. “Find a spot of shade somewhere and take a break,” she advises.
“Pay close attention to the personalities of your people, so you notice if someone’s getting a little snarly, or begins to get confused and can’t follow directions. That’s a definite clue to heat problems,” she says. Stopping the ride early is another sensible option, remembering to let the body dictate the activity, not the clock.
There’s a great wealth of clothing options that provide relief from heat and sun. Some of the best hot-weather apparel choices turn up in riding and sports catalogs. These garments use moisture-wicking fabrics such as DuPont’s Coolmax to keep you cool, dry, and comfortable.
Take a look through the web catalogs geared for hiking and sailing, too. There you’ll find clever products such as the Solumbra sun-blocking weaves that permit cool breezes to flow through. Solumbra, a product of Sun Precautions, has a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 (an average white shirt only gives you the protection of an SPF 5 sunscreen). And a long day in the sun will go better if you’re not beginning to sunburn right through your clothes.
Sun Precautions makes a very broad range of products for active outdoors people, including lightweight hand covers for those who dislike gloves but who are trying to protect the backs of their hands, where sunscreen often wears off. Specially vented shirts with extra pleats to permit active motion are particularly appropriate for horsemen. They’re not your $10 T-shirt—prices are in the $80 range—but they’re practically indestructible and will save you the cost of a few bottles of sunscreeen.
For more heavy-duty cooling (albeit with a heavier garment), CoolTek (info:?www.heatrelief.com) is a newly developed three-layer fabric that works on the principles of evaporative and radiant cooling. When soaked in water for just five minutes, a fiber batting absorbs and locks in water. A thermal barrier against your skin keeps you dry. As you heat up, the water absorbs the heat and conducts it to the garment’s exterior, where the heat both radiates and evaporates away. CoolTek is used in vests, hats, and other garments.
One of the most important sun-blocking items you can get is far less high-tech: a hat. Not just a ball cap, but a good-sized, wide-brimmed sunhat—anything from a cheap straw hat to a life-time-warrantied Tilley Endurables model in the $60 range.
If you have an indoor arena, preferably with lovely, large doorways and windows to build a breeze, or an arena shaded with big, old trees, that is where you’ll spend most hot summer moments. But what if you’re a desert rat, teaching in the Great Wide Open, and the nearest tree is huddled next to a shed for shade, begging for water?
One option is to install a water-misting system like those that homeowners put over their patios for a little cooling effect. Known at the Atlanta Olympics as “Canadian Carwashes,” shaded tents with fans and moisture systems became hugely popular.
Planning ahead for harsh weather can really save the day, and sometimes with the simplest things. Have a small cooler by the side of the ring with water bottles, along with a spray mister with a water/rubbing alcohol blend and/or a cold towel for a refreshing wipe. And don’t forget the sunscreen. Just because you’re a horseman doesn’t mean your face should have the texture of a saddle.
Riders and trainers alike should drink plenty of fluids—but not just any fluids. “We encourage competitors to bring plenty of ice and most importantly stay away from sodas. They are the worst for hydrating,” says Nancy MacIsaac, a United States Pony Clubs, Inc, horse management judge. “Water, then fruit juice are best. I am not sure if sports drinks are better than water, but they do provide the electrolytes that can be lost if riders sweat a lot.”
Another simple tool is gel-filled neck bands. “I put several in the cooler to put on a seriously stressed rider,” MacIsaac says. “Normally, a cool towel over the head and around the neck is enough for the somewhat overheated individual.
“The most important aspect was that before these kids and horse-management judges became overheated, we pushed water on them. Drink water before and after your ride. Drink, even if you are not thirsty. If you are thirsty, it is too late.”
Heat Index Explained
For some really good explanations of hot-weather effects, point your web browser to http://weather.noaa.gov/weather/hwave.html. There you will find excellent data on heat illnesses, how these things affect the body, and much more.
A key item for planning your barn’s summer schedule, however, is understanding the heat index, a figure that is provided daily in most summer weather stories. The heat index (HI) is an apparent temperature felt by the body due to the combined effects of temperature and humidity. Humidity is a key part of the equation because of its effect on the body’s cooling mechanisms. Perspiration cannot evaporate as well when the humidity increases. Therefore, the cooling effects of your sweat are reduced, and your body’s ability to cool itself naturally is reduced.
Still, gruesome as the heat index numbers can be, your situation can be even worse. The index reflects how conditions will affect a person of medium height and weight in shady, light-wind conditions. Larger, heavier people feel the heat index more intensely, as does anyone in a more exposed, sun-baked location. What this means is that your personal heat index may well be a few degrees higher than the one reported. —NA