Read our top 11 tips to help you care for your horse this spring
As a horse owner you’d know that while caring for your equine buddy is a big job year-round, but there is certain things that must be attended to to keep your horse happy and healthy in spring. Of course all the usual good horse care practices apply, but here are some tips to make sure your horse is the best cared for horse in the paddock this spring.
1. Fly control With the onset of warmer weather, insect populations will be on the rise. These can be a source of aggravation for horses, disrupting normal grazing and rest times. Taking simple steps such as keeping animal feed in closed, rodent-proof containers, keeping stalls and pastures rodent- and manure-free and using commercially available fly predators? can go a long way to keeping your horse comfortable throughout spring. Other measures, such as using fly traps outside barns and using fly sprays and wipes on the horse while you are riding, can be very effective. You could also consider using a fly mesh rug to keep your horse protected from flies while keeping them cool during the warmer months.
2. Monitor grass intake During spring, pasture grasses accumulate high amounts of fructans (sugars) which can cause acute digestive issues in horses, excessive weight gain and make them more prone to diseases such as laminitis. Fructan levels are lowest from around 3am to 10am, with levels gradually rising throughout the day and reaching their peak from around midday to mid-afternoon. It’s important to manage your horses’ grass intake by allowing them to graze on fresh grass only for a few hours each day, preferably when fructan levels are lowest.
3. Conditioning routine Your horse is probably just as excited as you to go out on those first warm weather rides, but bringing your horse back to its training or exercise regime should be done slowly and steadily, especially if your horse has been idle during winter. Gradually increase the level of intensity, while gradually adjusting the level of feeding to ensure nutrient requirements are met for the increasing workload. To make sure your horse doesn’t experience excessive weight loss or gain, this is a good time to evaluate your horses’ body condition by recording its weight and overall condition and regularly rechecking them throughout the season.
4. Clean, repair and store winter blankets It’s time to put away those winter blankets! Ensuring your horses’ blanket is cleaned, repaired and properly stored will help extend its usable life and save you money in the long run. You can choose to clean and repair the blankets yourself or have them professionally laundered and store them in an airtight container until next winter.
5. Parasite prevention and treatment As you know, internal parasites are a significant threat to the health of your horse but you may be surprised to learn that parasites such as worms can cause internal damage without you even realising your horse has been affected. Parasite burden is at its peak in spring, so making sure your horse has had its worming treatment is crucial. In addition to de-worming medications, it’s important to put in place an effective parasite management strategy which includes measures such as manure management and pasture rotation to keep your horse healthy and parasite free. Gathering and testing a faecal sample to test is a very effective way to identify any parasite issues so they can be controlled.
6. Manure management Every horse owner knows that the pleasure of owning a horse comes with the less enjoyable task of managing manure. Removing waste from stalls and riding areas helps prevent parasites and diseases that can incubate within piles of manure, as well as preventing water quality issues and minimising unpleasant odours. Once the manure is removed there are several ways to manage it: including hauling to the landfill or composting.
7. Pasture rotation Spring is the ideal time to begin planning for horses' forage needs and planning an effective pasture rotation strategy to ensure their nutritional needs are being met. The selective grazing habits of horses can seriously damage desirable, high-quality species of grasses in some areas. Pasture rotation involves dividing the pasture into paddocks and rotating the horses through these, giving each segment time to regrow. A good rule of thumb is to take the horses off an area when its grass is about 3 to 4 inches tall, on average. This can help reduce the cost of hay, because you will be ensuring your horse is obtaining quality nutrients, and can also help to break the lifecycle of some parasites.
8. Spring wellness check This is a great time to book in an appointment with your vet to discuss any health related matters and ensure your horses’ vaccinations are up to date. Vaccinations are one of the most important ways to protect the health and longevity of your horse, by protecting against potentially deadly diseases. The cost and effort of vaccination is very small compared with the potential financial and emotional cost of treatment.
9. Care for skin and teeth As your horse sheds his heavy winter coat, check for cuts, signs of skin diseases or any other problems. Checking your horses skin at the beginning of the season is important as the area under the horse blanket is a prime area for bacterial and fungal skin infections. A dental check-up is also important to ensure your horse gets the most benefit from his nutrition and prevent training problems such as head tossing and fidgeting.
10. Check fences, fields gates and water troughs If your horse has been stabled throughout winter and will now be turned out, it’s a good idea to check the pasture for any hazards such as holes, rubbish and debris, or low tree limbs. You should also carefully check gates and fences for loose or broken parts and repair any defects before letting horses into the field. Its’ also a good time to clean water troughs and check for any sharp edges.
11. Care for hooves Whether or not your horse was barefoot in winter, their feet need to be in the best possible condition before resuming training or exercising, so it’s time to schedule a farrier visit. Your horse’s feet may be tender when you start riding again so it’s best to leave a few days’ adjustment to the feeling of having shoes back on. As usual, you horse’s hooves will need to be tended every 6 to 8 weeks, so even if you plan to keep your horse barefoot, they will need a trim this time of year to stay comfortable during riding.