The dreary winter weather is finally leaving us! Well, most of us at least. Spring can be a very busy season for horse owners. We're getting back into serious riding, spring cleaning our barns and pastures, and prepping our mounts for the upcoming warm weather.
This transition period can be aggravating if you are unsure of where to begin. The combination of chilly and warm days, along with the wet weather, can spell disaster if you don't have a plan of action. First and foremost is safeguarding the health of our horses and ponies.
Vet Check and Vaccinations
Before the weather really starts warming up it's wise to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for a health check and to get any vaccinations. Since spring awakens not only flowers and lush pasture, but harmful insects and disease as well. Vaccinations are fairly dependent upon your location. Those who live in a very dry, arid region won't need the same vaccinations someone who lives in a damp, muggy climate.
Aside from flies, mosquitoes will be coming back with vengeance. Puddles from rain and open containers of water are prime breeding ground for these pesky insects. You can help prevent mosquitoes by removing any stagnant water and setting up specially designed traps. To be on the safe side, you should seriously consider vaccinations to keep your horse safe and prevent disease transfer.
Mosquitoes don't just carry West Nile, but all Equine Infectious Anemia. It is extremely important to get a Coggins test done if you plan on traveling. There is no cure for EIA but knowing if your horse has it can help prevent the continued spread of this disease.
Removing the Winter Woolies
Once your horse has been taken care of from the inside, it's time to remove the winter woolies. Spring can be an awkward time for horses. Removing the long winter coat takes elbow grease and regular grooming. If your weather fluctuates from warm and cold, you may want to continue blanketing your horse on the more frigid days if he/she is accustomed to it. Some people choose to clip their horse's coat if they are getting back into serious riding.
Keep a close eye on your horse if you have wet weather. Thrush in the foot and rain scaled in the coat, mane, and tail can creep up without you realizing it. Keeping your horse off of muddy areas will make grooming easier and prevent further ailments.
Preparing the Pasture
Once the snow is gone, get out there and walk your fence line. Look for loose boards, protruding nails and anything else that could cause injury or escape. If you use some type of wire fencing check the strength of it as previous snowfall could have weakened the strands. For those of you that use electric fencing, be sure you check your charger as well.
If your horse was stalled during the winter, introduce them to pasture very careful. Pasture is very sensitive to heavy hooves and overeating during this time. A nice, green pasture can turn into a muddy mess if you aren't careful. Creating a sacrifice pen is a wise choice. This small area will get beat up while your precious pasture can grow. A sacrifice pen is a great way to slowly introduce your horse to pasture and give them access to the fresh spring air when they can't be on pasture.
Getting Into Shape
Most horse keepers don't ride nearly as much during the winter, save for those who have indoor arenas. Since our horses are out of shape it's important to ease them back into riding. Going from no work to loping down a trail is asking for an accident.
If your horse has been stabled during the winter you'll have to work harder to get him into shape. You'll also need to be more careful when it comes to conditioning him slowly. Those who kept their horses pastured in a large area won't have to condition their horses quite as long. It'll take anywhere from one to four months of conditioning to get your horse where you want him to be. This depends on what type of riding you are doing, whether you are competing, and how often you ride.
Aim to ride at a minimum of 3 days a week. Pasture your horse as much as possible so he is able to exercise himself. Begin with 30-minute rides, slowly working up to a 90 minute ride. Try to do this over a 4 week period. Focus on walking and trotting at first. Introduce cantering at the 3 week park in small spurts. You can work in an area or on the trail depending on what type of riding you do.
While you condition your horse, always pay attention to his breathing and heart rate. An out of shape horse should not be "winded" or overly exerted. As you continue riding you'll notice that your horse will be able to build up his strength and muscle, allowing him to accomplish the same training without as much effort.
Horses retain their condition fairly well. If you do lay off of riding for a couple weeks, introduce work slowly to ensure you aren't pushing him. Remember that your horse may not be the only one who is out of shape! Exercising your own body will make you a better rider and a more flexible, strong partner for your horse.
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