As the weather warms up, you will surely want to get outside into the sunshine. But have you fully considered the hazards this season can bring about for your horse? Here, Katie Allen-Clarke from Horse & Country takes you through what to watch out for.
Spring is a time when the weather warms up, and we all feel the new year really start properly.
It is a time of renewal, sunshine and getting outside now the winter weather is finally over.
However, this season can also cause some new risks to your horse, so here is a reminder of what to look out for over spring.
Factors such as new temperatures, overgrazing, and unpredictable weather, including morning frost, can all contribute to this season’s challenges for your four-legged friend.
There is plenty you can do to prepare for this time of year, so it is well worth taking the time to organise your spring routine.
This way, you can rest assured that your horse is well looked after and enjoying this warmer season. Here’s some measures you can take for spring horse care.
Book a vet appointment
Even if your horse is not presenting any obvious health issues, it is still a good idea to book him in for a check-up with the vet at the beginning of the spring season.
We tend to slow down our riding schedules and leave our horses to rest more during the winter — as we should because the colder weather can be tiring for them and us.
But this means that when the spring hits, your horse might not be used to being more active, and so this is a great time to get them checked over and make sure he/she is ready to up the workload.
Here are some essentials you will need to start the season:
- A wellness exam from the vet;
- Updated vaccinations, such as for equine flu and tetanus;
- A dental check;
- Booking an appointment with the saddle fitter and equine body worker;
- Reassessing his diet with the help of a qualified equine nutritionist.
Look out for spring grasses
Spring is also a time when the grass begins to grow much more than it has for months, and while this is exciting for a horse, it can also become unsafe for them.
Fresh grass contains more sugar and non-structural carbohydrates (NSCs), which can add a lot of starch to your horse’s diet.
Your horse will instinctively eat a lot of grass, and this can mean they ingest too much starch at once.
As NSC levels are decided by fluctuations in weather and other environmental factors, it can be challenging to know which grass is safe for your horse.
Overeating NSCs can cause laminitis, metabolic disorders and other equine digestive diseases so it’s well worth avoiding.
To control the NSC in your horse’s diet, you can turn your horse out at night when these concentrations are lower or section off his/her paddock so you can control how much he’s eating.
To keep horses at risk of digestive issues on dry lots or inside, try only feeding them hay which is 10% or lower in NSCs.
Introduce your horse to the NSC content of spring grass extending their turnout gradually, starting early in the morning.
This will help their gut microbiome acclimatise to the spring grass after their winter diet.
Check over your hay supplies
As well as the transition into grazing, your horse will still be eating a lot of hay at this time of year, and it is useful to do a check of it to make sure it is not mouldy.
Mould can cause digestive upset if eaten by your horse, and they might avoid eating the hay at all if they spot it.
You should also look your hay over for dust, which can cause coughing and respiratory issues.
When you get a new spring batch of hay, clean out the dust, mould, and debris from any remaining winter haystacks to stop any contamination between the two.
While winter hay is a great food source for our horses, and we can build fantastic storage for these bales, it will likely not be as good as spring hay.
So, make sure there is no contamination between them. And to avoid digestive upset, let new hay bales cure for a couple of weeks and feed them to your horse in a 3-to-1 ratio of old to new.
Then, increase the amount of new hay your horse is eating gradually.
Gradually increase the exercise
Winter can be a very sedentary time for all of us, and it is no different for your horse.
So, it is good to gradually increase their exercise time rather than throwing them in at the deep end with the type of riding and turnout time they were used to the previous year.
Not only will this give their hooves time to adapt to any new shoes or hoof length, but it will also help them improve their physical condition without straining and injuring themselves.
Develop a structured fitness plan for your horse, gradually working up to the workload you are used to.
Adjust your routine based on your horse’s health and how they respond, and enjoy getting back to your more active regimen.
Use all these tips to ensure that your horse enjoys the new season and that you are getting the most out of the warmer weather too.
Take your time with adjusting your four-legged friend to the new season’s nutrition and exercise routine, and be sure to keep an eye out for any spring grass or winter hay that could present a hazard to their health.