Equines - Things to do this Month - Spring
Horses, Ponies, Donkeys and Mules
Spring Care & Welfare
The lengthening days at this time of year are welcomed with great excitement by those who keep horses – it means less mud, more riding
Follow our spring welfare tips to keep horse and rider happy.
BEWARE OF SYCAMORE & OAK in your horses’ paddocks. Although the most dangerous time is autumn when the Sycamore seeds and acorns are falling, it’s still important to check fields for any that may be blown onto horses’ fields in strong winds.
- SPRING GRASS SAFETY – this is the time of year to watch your horse’s weight carefully, whether or not they are known to be prone to laminitis (also known as ‘Founder’) the high sugar levels in Spring grass can be dangerous to all horses’ health. Fructans in particular are a major cause of laminitis, as the incomplete breakdown of these sugars in an overloaded digestion system can cause disruption of the microcirculation within the hoof. This results in oxygen starvation and subsequent breakdown of the sensitive laminae. This can apply to ALL horses, so restrict grazing by using a ‘strip-grazing’ system using portable electric fencing, and/or reduce the amount of time at pasture. As their digestive system becomes acclimatised to this influx of rich grass you can gradually increase this time depending on the lushness of the grazing and the horses’ body condition scores – at any sign of weight-gain, their grazing should be reduced.
- NIP WEEDS IN THE BUD – the earlier you start to get on top of weed control, the less problems you will have later in the year. A ‘RagFork’ is a great tool for uprooting the ragwort rosettes and is also very effective when used on dandelions. Remember that ragwort remains poisonous even when wilted.
- PASTURE MANAGEMENT – if the pasture has taken a bit of a battering over the winter, now is the time to undertake any patching or re-seeding. If things aren’t quite that bad and the ground is dry enough to get machinery on to it, harrowing will help to knock some of the ruts downs and get a bit of air to the roots as well as dragging out old, dead grass.
- WORM CONTROL & POO-PICKING – by regularly collecting the muck from your horses’ fields you will massively reduce their exposure to gut worms and improve their overall health – it’s a quick job if done every day!
- BODY CONDITION SCORING – it’s important to keep your horse at the right body condition, a weigh tape is useful, but by regularly getting ‘hands-on’, you’ll be able to assess his level of body fat more accurately – have a look at this chart by Kentucky Equine Research for more information
- REGULAR VIGOROUS GROOMING will help your horse lose his old winter coat and stimulate his skin and muscles
- TACK & EQUIPMENT – give everything a thorough check, clean and conditioning
- FITTENING YOUR HORSE – most of us tend to ride less in the winter, so horses will now need to be gradually introduced to more work! Plan a varied schooling schedule and gradually increase work week by week – remember, it’s quality not quantity that matters!
- VACCINATIONS & TREATMENTS – check that these are all up to date, especially if you are planning to compete and travel with your horse.
- CLEAN THOSE RUGS! Don’t throw filthy winter rugs into a corner and forget them – they will last longer and keep their waterproofing better if you get them professionally washed and re-proofed
- A source of fresh, clean water is essential at all times; even in cooler weather a 16hh horse can drink between 20-40 litres a day, depending on its level of activity
- If horses over-heat during or after exercise (including galloping around the field for fun) they can suffer from dangerous heat stress in any weather, so invest in a cooler rug that will wick away heat and moisture and keep your horse’s temperature steady
- If you don’t have time to ride, keep them supple and exercised – try practicing these ‘carrot stretches’ with your horse
A) Take a hoofpick or a ball point pen and run it along the length of the back from the withers to the tail, about a hands breadth from the midline. Repeat on the other side.
B) Place one hand on the withers and with the other hand on the sternum use the fingertips to stimulate a flexion response.
C) Stand behind the horse and rub the area either side of the dock briskly to stimulate a flexion response.
A) Take the carrot down the horses chest to in between the front legs.
B) Take the carrot to the outside of the fetlock.
C) Take the carrot to the outside of the knee.
D) Take the carrot to the outside of the elbow.
E) Take the carrot to the middle of the ribcage.
Repeat each stretch three times on both sides.
Grasp the dock in both hands a couple of inches from the root of the tail. Lift the dock slightly so that it is horizontal then apply a slow gentle traction which gradually increases over a period of ten seconds. Release the tail slowly and observe the rebound as the horse relaxes. Repeat the tail pull ten times.
A) Lift the foreleg and cup your hands just above and behind the knee. Apply a gentle smooth stretch until you find the point of resistance then hold for a couple of seconds and release.
B) Lift the foreleg and take the knee backwards through the limbs normal range of movement.
C) Lift the foreleg and cup your hands behind the pastern, extend the leg until you find the point of resistance, hold and release.
D) With the leg fully extended gently abduct and adduct the limb through its normal range.
N.B. Protect your own back throughout.
A) Lift the hindleg and cup your hands behind the pastern. Gently draw the leg forward until you find the point of resistance, hold for a couple of seconds and release slowly.
B) Lift the opposite hindleg to the side you are standing and gently draw the leg forewards and towards you i.e. underneath the horses belly, find the resistance point, hold and then release slowly.
N.B. Protect your own back throughout and avoid these stretches if the horse is likely to kick.
- Even in cooler weather your horse will appreciate a good wash-down after exercise with cool (not icy), clean water – but make sure he can dry off away from draughts; a well-designed cooler rug will help dry quickly and prevent chills
- And finally, despite the lighter evenings, always use very visible hi-viz gear for you and your horse: tabard, hat cover and arm and leg bands for you, and bridle-strips, tail band and fetlock bands for your horse – BE SAFE, BE SEEN.