A collection of resources from the FEI, AAEP, National Weather Service and the CDC about safety for athletes competing in hot and humid conditions.
Horses are an incredibly resilient species for so many reasons including their ability to thrive in climate zones all over the world. From deserts to tundras, horses have powered man kinds pursuits in all sorts of extremes. My horses alone have experienced -2 degrees and then 102 degrees within a few months. [Can we just sit back and appreciate that for a minute!]
Talking about extremes- the world's top equine athletes and riders will be competing at the Tokyo Olympic games starting this week! The eventing discipline, the truest test of equine stamina, will start on July 30th with cross country running on Sunday, August 1st. It's gonna be very hot and very humid- weather.com predicts 85 degrees with humidity between 75 and 85% on cross country day! Because the Olympic Planning Committee does not choose dates around equestrians, it's up to the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (Federation Equestre International = FEI) and the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), along with numerous equine physiology and nutrition researchers to determine how to make the sport safe in extremely hot/humid conditions. Between the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 and the forthcoming 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, GA, these organizations spearheaded a body of research that helped nearly 100 horses to compete safely in 90 degree temperatures and humidity levels above 85%. That research, along with many more studies in recent years, is informing equestrian sports today. Tokyo 2021 promises similar challenging weather conditions, so that FEI has been hard at work to disseminate that collection of scientific information.
The Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan- Saturday, July 24rd = Heat Index of 95 | WBGT of 84
The Event at Rebecca Farms in Kalispell, Montana- Saturday, July 24th = Heat Index of 93 | WBGT of 80
I decided to dive into this body of research to inform my own hot horse show endeavors for 2021. My metaphorical "Olympic Games 2021" takes place this weekend at The Event at Rebecca Farms. This horse show, just a three hour drive from my front door in Montana, has grown into a first class, premier national event with over 600 riders competing over five days. I looked up my ride times and, sure enough, I'm riding in the afternoon all three phrases.
Did I mention that I hate the heat? Summer is my least favorite season after spring, fall, and then winter. I've been daydreaming a lot about snow storms recently. I honestly think I prefer -2 before 102. So, with temperatures likely to reach high nineties each day (albeit low humidity), I set about making a serious "beat the heat" game plan for my rides. I'd like to share with you what I learned.
My Hot Horse Show Plan
My hot horse show plan was created from the resources listed below including documents, videos and peer-reviewed papers published by the FEI.
Step #1: Active Acclimatization (a.k.a. ride in the hottest part of the day at home). This was likely the best bit of information that I needed to hear. Before reviewing the articles provided by the FEI for Olympic athletes, I was riding at 8:00 am every morning and wussing out about 11:00 am when temperatures started to climb above 80 degrees. Now...none of that! A week ago, I started riding midday, and purposely placed my clinic group ride in the afternoon just to acclimate my horse and I to hotter temperatures. I planned each day by packing my 100 SPF bottle of sunscreen, multiple water bottles with electrolytes, and cool juicy veggies dipped in hummus.
The FEI recommends that you begin to acclimate at least two weeks prior to departure by riding in the heat of the day, but taper the intensity of training within 10 days of departure. Tapering hasn't been a problem considering the poor air quality caused by wildfires.
Step #2: Pre-Game (hours before leaving the start box).
a) Stay in shade for as long as possible. My awesome new trailer has an awesome new generator accessory capable of powering the air conditioner. Gonna be spoiled at this event, but I do need to remind myself not leave the AC to tack up too early.
b) Hydrate little and often. Will pack my favorite energy/electrolyte mixture called TailWind and sip it throughout the day.
c) Minimize caffeine (this will be the hardest part) and no alcohol to calm the nerves!
d) Have a warmup plan. I'll keep it short and quick so as not to over heat my heavy warmblood before I leave the start box.
e) Remember to bring the Canyon Cooler and stock 5-6 bags of ice beforehand. I'll stage two water buckets close to the finish line with a bag of ice each for immediate post run cooling.
f) Erect shade tent.
Step #3: Immediately Following Cross Country
a) Remove and stash tack under the shade tent.
b) Pour large volumes of cold water (48 degree F or less; ice water preferred if available), soak from head to tail for 30 seconds, then walk for 30 seconds, and repeat for 10-15 minutes! Research has shown that this method does NOT cause myopathy or cramping.
c) Research has concluded that scraping water off a hot horse is ineffective. Allow evaporative cooling to drop body temperature between full body, cold water drenches.
Step #4: Monitor
a) Know what is normal TPR for your horse. A rectal temperature at or over 104 degrees Fahrenheit is extremely dangerous. I went and took Stella's TPR when the temperature was 95 degrees. It was 99 degrees F, 32 beats per minute, and 12 breaths per minute.
b) Monitor water consumption. Stella is a pretty good drinker at horse shows consuming 15 gallons a day normally.
c) Administer electrolytes around dinner time the day of cross country.
c) Pack fan and extra extension cord for the stall. Not sure if I will be able to use it, but I'll try.
A collection of Resources from the FEI
If you are worried about heat like I am, then I highly suggest perusing the resources provided below. Most of this information is written for the Olympic participant athletes, but can be adapted to our own amateur needs closer to home.
FEI "Beat the Heat Video Playlist". I especially enjoyed Episode 2 "Equine Preparation at Home"
Hot Weather & Athlete Performance- advice for athletes and show support staff
Measuring Safety with the Heat Index & The WetBulb Globe Temperature
There are three ways to calculate and define the relative safety of working and playing outdoors in the heat. They are listed here from least complex/easiest to calculate to most complex/hardest to calculate; 1) temp+humidity, 2) the heat index and the 3) wetbulb globe temperature (very difficult to say three times fast). I've also included links to supplemental resources such as online calculators and recommendations from the CDC and AAEP.
Sum of the forecasted maximum temperature plus humidity percentage: at less than 130 horses are very capable of self cooling, 130-150 more difficult to cool and dangerous for sensitive groups, 150-180 dangerous especially if humidity is 50% or more of that number, 180+ extremely dangerous. Read more at https://aaep.org/horsehealth/heat-stroke.
Heat Index: Best described as the "feels like" temperature. It's a function of ambient temperature and humidity. It's a very complicated equation, but thankfully, YES, there is an App for that! The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has created the OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool app. This is an excellent resource for planning work and play around the heat index. The National Weather Service also has a Heat Index Calculator.
Wet Bulb Globe Temperature: A tool used to estimate how effective a body will be in eliminating heat. It's a calculation from air temperature, humidity, wind speed and cloud cover/solar radiation. National Weather Service WetBulb Globe Temperature Calculator. This is the calculations that the FEI uses to monitor conditions for athletes.
The heat index and the wetbulb globe temperature this weekend will be less than what the Olympic athletes will be experiencing due to humidity, but conditions will be serious enough to warrant care. My Hot Horse Show Plan has given me confidence for my ride this week. If I can worry less about over heating (both me and my horse), I can focus on the details like my horse's balance and my position. Wish me luck! We're gonna need it.