This summer is the coldest of the rest of your life.
This jarring sentence is being circulated a lot these days as an alarming wakeup call.
The country is already sweltering under record-breaking heat. But the troubling reality is that even more extreme weather is in our future due to climate change and most equestrians are not prepared. It will get hotter. It will get drier. Storms will become more intense and erratic. There will be more forest fires and floods.
Horses can suffer severe acute and long-term effects of extreme heat in particular. The health, safety and happiness of horses will be deeply affected by our action or inaction.
Equestrian Canada has compiled valuable resources for competition organizers. This is a good start, and it offers insights of broader applicability.
But as an equestrian community we need to do more, both right now and in the coming years.
- Fans should be hung for horses indoors to provide immediate relief, with precautions taken to ensure they and extension cords are safely and securely positioned. The fans should be in good working order and monitored regularly.
- Horses should be hosed off with cold water frequently. New research suggests not using a sweat scraper to remove excess water will keep horses cooler.
- Horses outdoors must have access to shelter or, at minimum, reliable shade to allow them to escape the heating effects of solar radiation.
- Serious discussions are needed about establishing minimum and maximum temperatures for horses to be asked to work. This applies not only to competitions, but to lessons and daily riding. Our provincial and national equestrian bodies should provide leadership and synthesize the science to provide guidance or directives. In the coming years, animal welfare and anti-cruelty legislation may (and should) be amended to establish temperature ceilings and floors. I also call on horse people and stable managers to immediately exercise leadership and establish standards, keeping the horses’ wellbeing front-of-mind.
- Droughts will become more common and all stables will need to establish backup plans in case their wells become dangerously low.
- Thoughtful, detailed fire response and prevention plans must be developed. Ontario Equestrian has compiled these helpful resources. Our fellow horse people in Australia and California have learned important lessons, some very painful ones, about what to do now in anticipation of emergencies and we can gain valuable insights from their experiences. The same is true for floods.The realities of climate change mean that we need to change ‘business as usual’ to properly protect horses. People will be inconvenienced and affected. But we must accept that today’s weather extremes are just the beginning.
These kinds of changes will also cost money. But failing to act would be far more costly for the horses we love and have a duty to protect.
Dr. Kendra Coulter holds the Chancellor’s Chair for Research Excellence and is an associate professor in the department of labour studies at Brock University. She is a fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, a globally recognized expert on animal protection, and a lifelong horsewoman.