It's a tough job being a carriage horse on the best of days. But did you know that the City of St. Louis allows carriage horses to pull full carriages downtown, on the hot asphalt, when it's 100+ degrees out?
According to KSDK, Channel 5, carriage companies haven't been taking their horses out until 6 or 8PM, but anyone who is familiar with St. Louis knows that evenings do not bring appreciatively cooler temperatures at nightfall. In fact, according to timeanddate.com, it was hotter than 95 degrees at 7PM on five of the last seven days - and the doesn't include the high-humidity levels.
Holly Cheever, D.V.M., is one of America's foremost equine veterinarians and has been the primary adviser to 20 municipalities in the United States who have sought guidance on this subject. Even for healthy horses, drawing a vehicle carrying anything from two to nine people through city streets is not an easy task.
During these summer months, horses suffering from dehydration or heat stress can die in just a few hours. Symptoms of heat prostration in horses include flared nostrils, brick-red mucus membranes, trembling, and a lack of sweat production on a hot day. Some U.S. regulations forbid horse-drawn vehicles when the temperature reaches a certain degree.
A problem associated with such edicts is that official weather bureau readings do not accurately reflect the temperature on city streets. A study published by Cornell University found that the air temperature recorded by the weather bureau can be nearly 50 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the actual asphalt temperature. And the New York City Department of Transportation found that asphalt surfaces can reach 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
These discrepancies can be life threatening particularly for a large horse, like one of the draft breeds, as they are greatly challenged in their ability to dissipate body heat into an increasingly warm environment. The horse can lose 8-10 gallons of fluid with exercise, but if the air is damp, cooling by evaporation cannot occur. If dehydrated and unable to produce sweat, anhydrosis ensues and can kill.
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