Insulin resistant horses like Isis have trouble with heat. Insulin resistance is similar to a pre-diabetic condition in people: the horses who have this metabolic issue do not process insulin (and sugars) normally. IR impacts everything else in one giant cascade: IR horses’ immune systems aren’t quite at 100%, heat affects them harder than other horses, etc. IR is a maintenance issue and you never know when you’ll discover some new aspect that has to be managed.
Last summer, one of the boarders at my barn had diabetes. One hot afternoon, we talked about how the heat effected her during summer. It was enlightening: the way she felt mirrored the way Isis looked and acted. I always felt sorry for them both when I saw the headache-scrunched eyes from too much heat.
Isis seems to do okay with gradual temperature changes. She has a chance to acclimate. The weather here for the past month or more has been lovely: mild temperatures, low humidity — perfect riding weather. Until this past week.
All week we’ve had temperatures hovering around 100F (36-38C) with bountiful humidity. It’s like spring left and August arrived with no transition. Isis has been off her grain during the heat and acting like she has had mild heat stress, which can cause dehydration or even colic. I have been fretting over her all week. She started on Monday evening, and then Tuesday it was the first full day of real heat. She went off of her grain and had the barn manager very worried that she might be having another EPM episode. So much so that he called me several times with updates on Tuesday and Wednesday.
We do what we can to help keep Isis cool during the hotter months. Isis is in during the day and has two fans in her stall to help circulate the air. When she is too warm, she’s hosed off. (She was hosed off several times each day during the past few days.) She has a towel that can be wetted down and placed on her. Keeping her cool is always a struggle, but this spring seems to be doubly so. I’ve been nervous about her: fretting over how to keep her cool and moving and not off of her food.
I called the vet on Tuesday and again on Wednesday to let her know everything we’ve been doing for Isis. If Isis continued to not eat or refused to eat her water, at what point would the vet need to come out? The vet said that if Isis goes off her grain for extended periods of time or the consistency/quantity of her stool changes, then the vet should probably come out. Otherwise, there isn’t much more that we can do for Isis. Because Isis is off of her grain, she isn’t getting any electrolytes. The vet suggested making a paste of Isis’ sugar-free electrolyte powder instead of using an over-the-counter electrolyte paste (which is full of sugar).
Yesterday evening, Isis looked like someone who can’t get comfortable from the heat. A little like she had a headache, but she hollered at me when I came into the barn and ate the half flake of dry hay I gave her. (Her normal hay is soaked to help reduce sugar content.) I cooled her off with some water and headed back home. It was too hot at 6:30 to do anything.
Today, the temperatures were much milder. The high was only 95F instead of 98F. By the time I arrived at the barn around 6:30, Isis was already out in her pasture and seemed to be doing 100% better. She nickered at me when I went into the paddock with her (a sound that always makes me feel special). I worked her starting around 8:00 when the heat of the day was mostly gone. We freelunged for about 15 minutes: Isis walked out and didn’t seem sluggish. The only indication she had not been feeling well was that she dragged her back feet at the trot.
I rode her bareback in the halter and leadrope for about 20 minutes, first in the ring, and then on a brief trail ride around the farm. She perked up a lot when I got on her, especially when we opened the gate to go out of the ring. Such a good girl.
I went home in high spirits tonight. It felt like a 50 pound weight had been lifted from my shoulders. It’s supposed to be cooler this weekend too. Yay for some cooler weather and a much happier mare.