A New Horse Owners Guide To Spring Dangers
Well, with spring just around the corner, many horse owner’s thoughts turn to spending more time with their horses. But before you throw your saddle on your horse and jump on, there are some things that need to be thought of.
Many people who live in areas that experience ice and snow and mud and don’t have access to an indoor riding ring have spent a great deal winter throwing hay and chipping ice, but not much time in the saddle. While the weather is still making up it’s mind to be good or bad, this is a good time to pull out all of your riding equipment and check it for damage.
Take your saddle and bridle completely apart, undoing all buckles and examine the leather. Pay close attention to areas that contact metal. Look for cracks and areas that are wearing thin. Small surface cracks will generally be okay with a good oiling. Larger cracks, however, may need repairing or replacing. Tug on the leather. If it stretches visibly, it’s a weak area, and it needs to be fixed. Clean the leather thoroughly and oil it. It’s usually best to spend money on getting a good quality product. Cheaper products often do not clean well or leave behind a residue. There are many good ones on the market, ask around at a local tack shop for quality leather care products. I use the Leather Therapy line of products and have found they work well for me.
If you use a western bridle, it’s a good idea, while you have your bridle apart, to replace small leather items that get a lot of wear. This would be chin straps and water straps on the ends of reins if you use them. These pieces get a lot of saliva and water abuse, as well as stress and sometimes, in the case of the water strap ends, chewing. If you use an english bridle, check the reins, looking for broken lacings or loose buckles or hooks. On any type of bridle, check all fasteners for stability. After a good cleaning, oiling and inspection, it’s ready to put back together.
To inspect your saddle, take the stirrups completely off and examine the place where the leather meets metal. When you straighten the leather out, does it crack? If so, you may want to replace it. It’s especially important to take a the western stirrups off and separate the leathers to examine them. It’s much easier to miss problem areas that may be hidden behind the fenders on a western saddle than it is on an english saddle where the leathers are in easy view. Check the billets for wear and excessive stretching on an english saddle, and on a western saddle, check that the cinch rings are firmly attached to the saddle and examine the cinch billets for wear and cracking.
Before you throw that gleaming tack on your horse and go for a ride, stop and take a good look at your equine partner. If you live in an area where winter includes snow, ice, mud or all three, you’ve likely had your riding time interrupted, sometimes for weeks at a time. Work, school, and lack of daylight hours can also wreak havoc with a consistant riding regimen. Simply throwing your saddle on and going out for several hours to enjoy the beautiful spring season with your horse can often end in injury to your horse. Despite how big and strong he looks, he is, in most cases, quite out of shape. While he could most likely tote himself around for a couple of hours with no ill effects, add a rider’s extra, shifting weight, and he could injure himself. It takes a great deal of strength to stop, start and turn on uneven ground with extra weight that also moves unexpectedly. Common spring injuries are sore backs, sore hocks, pulled muscles strained tendons and ligiments, bowed tendons and even tying up from over-exertion. Be aware that your horse needs time to get in shape. If it’s been a month or more since you’ve ridden your horse, spend the first month getting him in shape with lots of walking and some light trotting starting at 30 minutes and working up to and hour and a half. Once you get to an hour of working, you can start to add in some hill work, if you live in a hilly area. At an hour and a half, start adding some light cantering. When your horse can go for an hour and a half with walking, some steady trotting, and some occasional cantering without getting very out of breath or very sweaty, the danger of overextending himself or tying-up from exertion is minimal. If it’s been two or three months since you’ve ridden much, then spend about 6 weeks or so getting him in shape. Let your horse be your guide. Watch his breathing and his recovery. He should get just slightly out of breath, and be able to recover in a few minutes. A light sweat means he is working, a dripping, frothy sweat means you are pushing him too fast.
The ground itself, in the spring, can cause many injuries. Very often, warm, sunny spring days will be followed by cold, below freezing nights. This will often cause the ground to thaw, just slightly, on top, yet remain frozen a few inches down. A horse can easily slip in this situation and sprain or pull something, or even fall. Be aware of the ground you are riding on. Take a moment to dig down a few inches and see if there is a frozen layer. Beware of low-lying areas you may want to cross, such as gullys. These often collect water, which can lay just beneath the surface and freeze. In riding rings, walk around the ring and check for frozen patches. Dragging the ring before you begin serious riding in it is best, this will break up the surface, allowing moisture to drain and the ground to thaw deeper, and will eliminate low areas that tend to collect water.
Grazing and General Feeding
Laminitis and founder is a very real concern in the spring. If your horse is on pasture, one of the best ways to guard against founder is to make sure hay is available to the horse, during the first several weeks of grass. Very often, horses that are grazing spring grass will crave a drier, stemmier roughage and will seek out the hay. If it seems that your horse is not eating any hay, putting him in a grass-less area for half of the day will encourage him to eat the hay. For many horses, just having the hay in their digestive system is enough to counter-act the effects of the grass. During this time, you should keep an eye on the horse’s droppings. Bright green, sloppy loose droppings will mean that you should limit the time spent on the grass even more. If the droppings are a rich green, yet remain firm and form balls, then odds are your horse is doing fine getting acclimated to the grass. Also, during this time of fresh growth, you may want to cut back on any grain you are giving the horse. Spring grasses are very high in sugar and simple carbohydrates, which often results in the spring “sillies.” Cutting back on grains will help. If you do not have anyway of keeping a horse off of spring grass, if needed, investing in a muzzle is a good idea. Often, all a horse on pasture during this time needs is a mineral block. Spring grass is quite high in protein and most vitamins and of course, sugar, but somewhat low in minerals, so many horses do fine without any grain or other supplements at all except for a mineral supplement, until the grass begins to die back in the summer. If nothing else, a horse should receive a good magnesium supplement during this time. Magnesium increases the effectiveness of the insulin response to sugars. If you use a granular mineral supplement, a small amount of dampened beet pulp will often do the trick in getting him to eat it, and provide some extra fiber, too.
Spring is a wonderful time, and horses and people alike enjoy getting out and spending time together as the world comes back to life. Make sure this time is not marred by injuries by using common sense and taking your time to smell the……early spring flowers.