Sunburn and Skin Cancer
Riders should try to avoid sunburns due to their painful nature and contribution to future skin cancer risk. Doctors recommend using sunscreen that is at least SPF 30 and contains either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide as a main ingredient. Reapply every two hours (or more often, depending on how much you’re sweating).
“The sun’s rays can be so harmful,” says Laurie Massa, M.D., partner at Dermatology Associates of Kentucky, a lifelong horsewoman, and mother to three horse-crazy girls. “These harmful rays can lead to the three most common skin cancers: basal cell carcinoma, melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma.”
Squamous skin cancers tend to show up in sun-exposed areas and often pop up fast, says Massa. They can look like a pimple that won’t heal. Precancerous cells can look like red, scaly places that may be tender to the touch.
Basal skin cancers tend to grow more slowly and will often look shiny or pearly. Melanomas are the deadliest of all skin cancers: These look like irregularly shaped and colored moles, often larger than 6 millimeters. If left untreated, they can spread and lead to death.
Heat exhaustion occurs when you’ve been out in hot, humid temperatures and are not properly hydrated. Massa recommends paying attention to the heat index during the weather forecast.
The heat index tells you the discomfort that you will feel as a result of the combined temperature and humidity in the air.
According to the National Weather Service, a heat index of 103-124 is the “danger” zone, so you should consider skipping your ride. Anything above that is the “extreme danger” zone. If the heat index is 125 or higher, you should not be riding, as it can pose extreme danger to you and your horse.
The first clinical signs of heat exhaustion are nausea, fatigue and thirst. It can progress to confusion, stupor and convulsions. If untreated, it can be life threatening. When the body’s temperature rises too high, organs start to shut down.
Heat stroke is an immediate medical emergency. Clinical signs of heat stroke include flushed, hot, dry skin with no sweating; throbbing headache; weakness; dizziness; possible seizure and loss of consciousness.
If someone is suffering from any of these symptoms, get them into air conditioning or in the shade immediately, offer them a drink and loosen clothing. If symptoms continue, get the person indoors, undress and sponge off with cool (not cold) water and call for emergency assistance. Do not give any fluids.
Exercise in the Heat
You must remember to drink water. When you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Consuming plenty of water throughout the day not only helps you continue to sweat, thus regulating your body’s temperature, but it also helps your muscles battle fatigue and lubricates your joints.
“Drink [the equivalent of] six to eight bottles of water if you are out for six to eight hours a day,” advises Massa.
Thinking of going for a run or ride? The sun’s rays will zap your energy and heat your body a lot quicker. Try to avoid the glaring heat of blacktop surfaces or sandy open arenas, and opt for a walk or trail ride in the shade. Either run in the early morning or later in the evening when the sun is setting to avoid the hottest time of day, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Also, check the weather forecast for the day—if there’s a heat advisory, that can mean the ozone and air pollution threat is high. The increase in those two things means more pollutants that can damage your lungs, so you’ll want to take your workout inside into the air conditioning.
Dress appropriately for the weather by wearing breathable, loose-fitting clothes that are light in color. Shirts that are 100 percent cotton are not the most comfortable in the heat of summer, especially when soaked with sweat. Take advantage of the newer technical fabrics with cooling properties.
Topping everything off with a wide-brimmed hat or helmet visor will protect your face from the sun’s damaging rays.
Riding in the Heat
Summer and long hours in the saddle go hand-in-hand, so it’s important to practice the same principles for staying safe and cool whether you’re at the barn, on the trails or at a show.
“The best way to protect your skin from the sun is with physical blockers,” says Massa. “Wearing hats (when not riding; always wear a helmet in the saddle), sunscreen, and long-sleeved riding shirts with vents in them will help keep you cool and protected.”
Massa recommends seeking shade whenever possible, whether waiting for your turn in the arena or staking out a new trail route. Wearing sunglasses will help not only to protect your eyes, but also the sensitive skin around the eyes.
Staying cool at horse shows might be more difficult due to the layers of show clothing required. Warm up your horse without your show coat and/or chaps on, then put those on right before you enter the arena. Look for vented, cool show clothing.
If possible, seek shade while waiting for your class or ribbons to be announced. Have a bottle of water available between rides and make sure you stay hydrated.
Best for Both Horse & Human
“The big thing is to drink plenty of water, seek shade whenever possible, pick your ride times wisely (if possible), and at the first sign of heat exhaustion, seek help,” advises Massa. “Don’t ride if there’s a heat advisory, and, of course, always wear your helmet.”
Most importantly, listen to your body and listen to your horse. If, during your workouts, you’re starting to feel dizzy, faint or nauseated, stop immediately and find some place cool to sit down and rest. Drink plenty of fluids and take it easy. If your horse starts to act unwilling or unhappy, he, too, might be uncomfortable. So stop the ride early, untack, and indulge in some cool water and a breeze under the shade of a tree.
This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!