Spring Has Arrived, But is Your Horse Ready?
Keep Reading to checkout the 12 steps so both you and your horse are ready for the best time of the year.
The frigid temperatures of winter are nearing to an end and soon the fresh spring climate will arrive. The grass will be growing green and the skies will be clear and blue, perfect weather for training. If you own a horse, this can be an exciting time as both you and your horse(s) will be eager to enjoy the fresh air and take some nice strolls out on the pasture and beyond.
Before you can really take advantage of springtime, we suggest doing a few things for the sake of your horse’s health and comfort to prepare for the transition so this season is the most enjoyable yet.
#1 Renew your Coggins and Schedule Vaccinations
As we get into the warmer weather, horse activities are sure to pick up which means increased transport of horses and any accompanying viral, bacterial, or transferable conditions. When horses are kept at their stable all winter, it’s like the first day of school for them when we decide to trailer to that horse park or go on that group ride. Without constant exposure, they’re immune systems might not be familiar with new germs and how to fight off that respiratory infection of the coughing horse next to you. While some ‘bugs’ are less serious than others, horses have extremely sensitive respiratory tracts and a bad cough could do lasting damage to their airways. So before you load up for that first Saturday out, make sure you’ve done the following:
- Check to make sure your annual coggins haven’t expired as many farms and horse venues will require an up-to-date, negative coggins. A “coggins” is a physical evaluation done by a veterinarian where blood is drawn to check for antibodies containing the Equine Infectious Anemia, a life threatening and highly contagious viral disease. Coggin results can take up to 1 to 3 weeks to get back, so make sure you’ve scheduled your vet appointment far in advance of any planned rides.
- Check your vaccination records to see if your horse is due for annual or biannual shots. If you plan on showing your horse or taking them to a high-traffic horse park, most venues will require a vaccination record in addition to a negative coggins. Spring immunizations should be done in March and early April as the warmer weather brings with it the season for disease spreading mosquitoes and biting insects. At the very least, your horse should receive what’s commonly referred to as a 5-way or 6-way vaccination. Ask your vet for a shot that includes the following core Spring vaccinations:
- Eastern and Western Equine Encephalomyelitis (Mosquito spread)
- Equine Herpesviruses/Rhino (EHV-1 and EHV-4)
- Equine Influenza (virus subtypes A1, A2 including KY93, KY02)
- Tetanus Toxoid
- West Nile (Mosquito spread)
If your horse does not have an up-to-date shot record, booster shots on several of the above vaccinations may be recommended by your veterinarian. Additional vaccinations such as strangles may be a good idea if you board your horse at a high-risk facility with lots of horses coming and going. Make sure to schedule these appointments well ahead in advance because the sooner your horse’s health is checked out and any issues and concerns are addressed, the sooner they (and you) will be given the green light to go out, train and be active!
#2 Makeover Time & Inspection
It’s finally here! It’s that time of year for many horse owners where we check the forecast for that first sunny, mid-70’s day and you think that’s it. That’s the bath day, and we set out with a bucket, our Mane-N-Tail shampoo, and carve out several hours to get down to scrubbing every inch of our shedding, hairy, muddy messes. During the winter, your horse may have grown a long winter coat and accumulated some stubborn fungus on their pasterns and lets, but spring is the time for that long overdo makeover. That long and bleached-out winter coat will start falling away (and sticking to everything in sight!) so now is the time to closely inspect your horse’s skin for any issues, wounds, marks, blemishes and more.
Even if you keep up with a regular grooming schedule, small skin problem can be hidden by a horses long hair and thick mane. Give your horse a complete head to hoof shampoo when the weather is warm and consider using a gentle, medicated shampoo for their legs and in any areas where the skin needs a little extra help. This is when you can check for scratches, ringworm, summer sores or any other conditions which may have come from soiled blankets, excess moisture or even parasitic pests. In short of a thorough inspection, you’ll feel good about transforming your abominable snowman of a pony into a show-ring ready stud!
Skin issues and wounds can be an even bigger issue during the season when there are flies around as they will hover over that area, feed off of it and even lay eggs on horse wounds, exposing the horse to hazardous infections and other potentially life threatening diseases. If you spot something out of the ordinary, get a vet to help with advice on what to do and what products to use to resolve the issue.
#3 More Hoof, More Hoof Care
Whether you kept shoes on your horse in the winter or let him go barefoot, spring is an opportune time to get a closer look at their feet and keep their hooves healthy so they can travel around with ease and comfort. Additionally, the warmer weather results in expedited hoof growth while the spring showers can soften and weaken the protective hoof wall. Consider bumping up your farrier schedule from every 6 weeks to every 5 weeks to accommodate new growth and to keep toes short and tendons safe. A long, overdue toe can strain the flexor tendon while an imbalanced hoof can cause damage to ligaments and supporting joints. Have your farrier come out a little earlier if you notice any splits or roughage so you can catch developing cracks before they turn into a more serious, deep quarter cracks that can put your horse out of commission for several weeks while waiting on new hoof growth.
Properly trimming or shoeing your horse(s) before you start up your spring training schedule will make sure they stay sound and comfortable for a long season of riding. Spring is also a great time to invest in a good waterproof hoof dressing that will toughen the hooves and keep moisture and fungus out of hairline cracks and nail holes.
#4 Float your Horse’s Teeth
Having a vet inspect your the condition of your horse’s teeth should be done at least once or twice a year. It’s normal for horses to lose a bit of weight over the harsh winter months, but if your horse is struggling to gain weight despite a proper diet and routine worming schedule, it may be an indicator that your horse is having trouble chewing their hay, grass, and grain. Signs that your horse is in need of a float include dropping grain, compact grass or hay in the cheeks, weight loss, irritability when bridled or riding, and whole kernels of grain and seeds in their manure.
Horses grind their teeth in a circular motion and this grinding can cause lower areas in the inner circle and higher, sharp peaks on the outer tooth. Over time the high and low areas will lock the jaw and prevent the teeth from properly grinding their food. A float works as a gentle file when laid over the surface of the teeth and is used to even out any high points to be level with the flat, low areas. Young horses will lose their first set of deciduous incisors and then experience rapid tooth growth while older horses wear away their permanent teeth to just small nubs. It’s important to have both young and senior horses evaluated every 6 months.
A dental check-up and a routine float can easily be arranged when you have your vet out for Spring vaccinations. Make sure to request a dental evaluation prior to your appointment so your vet will come prepared with the right equipment.
#5 Analyze Your Horse’s Nutrition
You want your horse to look their best this spring, which means taking some preemptive steps before the warm weather to make sure your horse sheds out and reveals a healthy, glossy new summer coat and is of the proper weight. Depending on their condition and the type of work or training load you’re expecting them to endure, they may need a change in diet or a boost in nutrition via a daily supplement along with routine worming.
A helpful tool in determining any changes you should make to your horse’s nutrition is checking your horse’s body condition score. This was a system developed by researcher’s at Texas A&M university to determine the level of health of a horse using their body type. The scores range from 1 (“Horse is thin, emaciated.”) all the way to 9 (“Extremely fat with bulging fat in areas like the tailhead, along the withers, behind the shoulders, and along the neck.”). The average range to keep a horse at is right in the middle at number 5.
If you are gearing up for show season or hitting the trails, you may need to adjust your horse(s) feed to include a ration balancer to ensure they’re getting sufficient electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals. If your horse is showing a few ribs, you may need to increase their forage consumption by giving them 24/7 access to either grass or hay. Many owners will turn to increasing grain consumption, and while it is OK to supplement with grain, horses require fifteen to twenty pounds of forage a day. High sugar grains such as sweet feeds and senior grains can do more damage than good as excessive sugar and starch can cause inflammation in the body, leading to serious conditions such as founder or laminitis. So to combat a warry, wintered looking horse, consider adding free range access to quality hay such as alfalfa or timothy.
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In addition to adding quality forage, spring is an important time to worm your horse as the warmer weather breeds botflies and mites. As horses graze on the new spring grass, it is common for them to ingest fly larvae and mites which can lead to bots and tapeworms in the digestive tract. A good spring wormer will target bots and tapeworms so look for products containing Praziquantel or Ivermectin. If you can’t get your horses pasture mates on the same worming schedule, consider adding a daily wormer to your horses feed.
#6 Clean up Tack and Equipment
Spring is associated with “spring cleaning” so go ahead and do a thorough deep cleaning on all your horse tack and equipment. Months of cold weather (and a bit of neglect!) can cause leather tack to dry out and crack. Now is a great time to suds away the winter crust with some warm saddle soap and massage in mink oil, Neatsfoot oil, or Lexol conditioner. Sanitize your saddle pads and rid your riding armory of any left over winter fungi and bacteria.
As the weather starts getting consistently warm and we’re past the last frost, it’s a great time to do blanket inventory instead of shoving them to the back and dealing with them when it gets cold again. Go ahead and wash and sanitize your blankets by using warm water, a mild detergent, and letting them air dry in direct sunlight to kill any bacteria or fungus. The milder your detergent and water temperature, the less damage you’ll do to the blankets protective waterproofing. Take a look over the condition of your blanket and schedule any repairs that need to be done to tears or missing straps and buckles. It’s also a good idea to apply a water repellent fabric protectant to reinforce the water proofing. Taking these steps will make you feel good about folding your blankets up and having them ready to go for next winter.
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#7 Clean stalls and pasture areas
In keeping with the spring cleaning tips, cleaning your horse’s stall should be done and should be given priority to regularly clean them during the active season. Get your horse’s out of the stable and do a deep cleaning on a regular basis to include stripping stalls, scrubbing outdoor water troughs, and sanitizing wash racks and treating manure pits. This will also lessen the appearance of flies and other annoying flying pests which can show up in large numbers because of filth.
Make sure though when you are cleaning that you air out the stable. A stable area that is well ventilated and sanitized is of utmost importance because ammonia buildup in these enclosed areas can damage lungs, cause coughs, and increase risk to respiratory infections to your horse.
#8 Prepare For Fly Season
Spring and pests like flies are basically a package deal. When spring is in bloom, the flies are out and about as well and they will be eager to hover and make themselves welcome around your stables and where your horses are grazing. This make it all the more important to put into place measures to address their infestation and protect your horses from the threat the flies potentially bring.
Flies will be attracted to horse manure and use it to breed and both house flies and stable flies will be looking for nourishment off of your horses blood, sweat and tears. Stable flies bite into horse to drink their blood while house flies and face flies enjoy secretions from your horses eyes, nostrils, mouth and private parts. It’s no surprise that these biting insects are very annoying and uncomfortable for your horse, but can be detrimental to their health if they contract a disease from the pests such as West Nile or Encephalomyelitis.
Ready to use repellent sprays can be safely applied to your horse to keep biting insects at bay. When choosing a fly spray, look for hardwearing claims such as sweat and weather resistant and longwearing protection that will keep your horse comfortable for several days at a time. In addition to treating your horse, using a premise spray will cut down on your fly population around your barn and pastures. Traditional insecticides or natural alternatives (such as clove and cottonseed oil) can be easily applied to treat common areas such as pastures, stalls, barn isles and manure pits and can make all the difference in the amount of flies landing on your horse. You can also install an automatic fly spray dispensing system throughout your barn or set up traps which will capture a wide range of insect pests that could be plaguing your horses. Fly sheets and masks are also helpful in protecting your horse’s skin by creating a physical barrier between your horse and the insects.
#9. Mosquito Prevention
Aside from flies, mosquitoes are another flying insect to worry about during the warm weather of spring. To prepare your horse for the threat, we highly recommend vaccinating and other diseases for your horse for the sake of their health and wellbeing.
Some other things you can do to address mosquito problems is to reduce mosquito breeding areas where are areas where there is standing water or stagnant water that has accumulated, especially after rainfall. Address moistures issues around the grazing area and water troughs etc.
Finally, like the flies, some insecticide treatments can prevent mosquitoes from being in the area or repel them, for instance the installation of a mosquito misting system or a broadcast spray of a mosquito insecticide can significantly reduce the mosquitoes in the area giving not only horses comfort, but you as well!
#10 Manure Maintenance
Whether horses are in their stalls or out grazing, you’re going to have to deal with manure. Manure should not be left where they are because they are basically a green light for flies to come right on over and breed. Keeping your manure properly disposed and out of the way is not only good aesthetically but is a vital component of fly control. By doing a regular cleanup of your horses manure and disposing of it away from where your horse chooses to graze and train, you will reduce the invasion of filthy annoying flies in the area.
Manure management is another crucial aspect to reduce the fly population in the area. Clear up manure regularly and dispose of it far away from where the horses are residing. For mosquito prevention, you will need to cut down on moisture problems around the area since mosquitoes mainly breed and reproduce over areas where there is standing water, particularly after it has rained.
#11 Check For Parasites
While flies and mosquitoes can be external parasites for horses, there is also the threat of internal parasites that horses also have to worry about. Parasitic worms can plague a horse and live in the horses stomach and cause all sorts of problems like weight loss, diarrhea, itchiness and other complications. Horses often get these parasites through their feed, via flying insects laying eggs and other ways. This makes spring a good time to really focus in on deworming your horse.
Check your horses feces for signs of parasitic worms and then look into deworming products which may help rid the problem from your horses gut. For more information on the issue, we suggest checking with your veterinarian who can give you details on the right products and how to schedule a good deworming process for your horse.
#12 Begin Training!
Once all the above issues are dealt with and the proper schedules are put in place, there’s nothing much else left to do but get your horses out there and get them active again. Make sure to gradually ease back into it for your horse, especially if they’ve been taking it easy during the winter.
Let them get out and get some exercise by starting out by having brief walking strolls at first then moving on to longer rides and progressively faster strides after a few weeks. This will get your horses conditioned when it comes to not only their muscles but their cardiovascular system, bones and ligaments.
This slow and steady pace will lessen the chances of injury and get your horse in good shape the right way.
Hope you enjoy our article on the 12 Steps to Prepare Your Horse for Spring, we love our horses as much as you do, so please share our article with friends and family.
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