Sunny Days and Warmer Weather Ahead - Horses and Springtime

Don't wear chapstick, you've been warned!

Mud, mud, mud, and WARMTH!

If it's not ice, it's mud! Or icy mud...

Spring is a gift, (mud season is NOT) and while I just wrote about winter (ugh), we seem to have switched seasons in the past two weeks. At least my horse has, with his fur flying everywhere!

It's imperative to look ahead at your plans for spring horse care and riding as there are likely some changes to make from winter care. 

It's time to re-evaluate your horse's diet. Are they moving to pasture? Perhaps it's time to cut down on some of their feed and explore the nutrient content in your pasture grass. Your local county office should be able to help you with that.

Spring grass can be particularly sweet and can cause issues like founder in overweight horses. Plan your pasture time around this as well as your feed.    

It's getting muddy, oh so muddy, and with the amount of snow we still have left, it's only going to get muddier. 
Mud brings a couple of concerns. First, soft, slippery mud can cause stumbles, falls, and injuries. During turnout, your horse isn't as likely to be injured by the wet mud as they control their feet and balance carefully, but if you are riding, this is one of the times that you want to let your horse pick the path. They know where their hooves need to be better than you do.

Then there is the gross, thick mud, the kind that almost sucks your boots off of you. Avoid deeper mud if possible. The suction created can cause horses to lose shoes or worse, suffer tendon injuries. If you come across deep mud on a trail ride, do everything you can to go around it or consider turning back for your horse's safety. Avoid turning out your horse in a paddock that is this muddy.

It's likely time for a vet check. Your horse is likely due for spring vaccinations, particularly in regards to West Nile Virus, which, as it is transmitted by mosquitoes, the earlier vaccinations are done, the better. Perhaps it's time to pull a Coggins test if you plan to travel or show, and evaluate any significant changes in body condition from the winter.

Vet check via thehorse.com

Many gelding owners also use this as an opportunity to have their horse's sheath cleaned (honestly, I say get up in there yourself and do it, but some horses require sedation, and some owners don't want to deal with the grossness.) 

Spring is also a great time to do fecal egg counts. Rather than continuing to worm your horse on the usual schedule with the general wormer, have your horse's manure checked. You and your vet can then use this info to figure out what type of parasites your horse may have and how high the load is to develop a deworming plan that is best.
 
One of the biggest reasons to deworm this way is the development of parasite resistance to the wormers. The less used, the more effective it continues to be over time, for all of us.

And the dentist! When was the last time your horse's teeth were checked or floated? A lot of veterinarians have dental training, or there are many equine dentists out there. Bonus, if you have them checked every spring, you don't have to worry about remembering when they were last done!

"Here, I can help!" Photo credit sprucepets.com

This time of year many of us are bringing horses back into shape for summer riding. There are lots of ideas for 4-8 week workout plans, but the best way is always slow and steady.
According to equisearch.com, "Horses build body condition gradually. The respiratory and cardiovascular systems improve first, with increased respiratory and heart efficiency. The parts of the body that take longest to condition are the ones we commonly see injured."
 
It might be time to start a little hill work, but ensure that your horse is fit enough to work at the pace you are asking of them. Just a few minutes can be plenty. Other ways to bring your horse back into condition include LOTS of transitions, both within gaits and between them. Start with walk/trot transitions to work that hind end and grow from there. Use ground poles and cavaletti to build core strength. Keep pushing the lateral work, from leg yields to spiraling circles; there are many good ways to get going.

Photo Credit: 4 Principles of Training with Cavaletti J-Dot Stables, jdotstable.com

Tuning up with some lessons or going to a clinic or two will likely be beneficial for you and your horse whether you plan to show or you rock the trails. Not only will you both have the opportunity to learn something new, but bad habits we all develop over time can be caught and corrected when there are educated eyes on the ground.  
 
It's up to you to determine your own horse's fitness level, but if they are consistently ending workouts breathing as though they just finished doing cross-country in an event, you might be pushing them too hard. 

Oh yes, and remember to hold on tight when your horse gets frisky with spring fever!      


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