Have you ever spent time standing in one place in the cold for an extended period? Did you notice how when you moved again, your muscles felt stiff?
Multiply this by a winter’s length of time standing in a stall or moving slowly around a wet field. Now you know how your horse feels when you want to start riding more consistently with summer on the way.
Even if you ride year-round, if you’re in an area with highly changeable weather you probably ride indoors in the winter and less frequently. So how do you get your horse in shape for summer?
When was your horse last seen by his vet? Hopefully you have your horse on a deworming schedule and you’ve kept them healthy. As they spend more time in the pasture, they’re exposed to parasites more often.
Your horse actually tolerates the cold of winter better than extreme heat. It’s important to prepare to keep horses hydrated. As they drink more, there will be more urine in their stall bedding if you keep them in. And they’ll make more use of the salt lick in summer.
You may also want to consider supplements that replace electrolytes. All of this is more important if you do any extended riding.
You may find that a pastured horse is somewhat resistant to being collected after a long time away from the saddle. There are services you can employ if your horse is showing signs of misbehavior but if you’ve had your horse for a while, you’ve probably learned its winter-to-summer behavior cycles. Pay attention if anything seems different than what you’ve come to expect.
If your horse is still shedding its winter coat, be sure to use a shedding blade when first grooming. Then use the curry comb, stiff brush, and soft brush. Pick the hooves only if you are experienced with doing so or get someone to help. Use a mane and tail comb to get the burrs and other debris out of the long hairs.
This is a perfect time to examine your horse. Look at her from all angles and note any areas that appear swollen or injured. Any swelling or serious cuts on the legs or where the saddle will be should preclude any riding for today.
Muscles and joints
If your equine friend has spent much of the winter and spring being sedentary, you’ll want to pay special attention to any signs of stiff muscles and joints. Horses, like people, can be helped with massage for tight muscles.
Equine joints are complicated structures and rather fragile. They take a lot of stress from weight and compression. A bone chip can seriously impair performance and even end a career. Bring any suspected injury to the attention of your vet. There are a number of non-invasive tests that can determine joint health.
Are you in shape?
Finally, don’t forget to ask yourself if you’re ready to ride. Not just itching to get in the saddle but in shape for the physical demands of riding and refreshed on how to ride to get the most out of your horse.
It’s not a bad idea to actually create a seasonal horse-health checklist. Once you’ve completed your summer checklist, you and your horse are ready to ride. By following some simple common sense, your horse will stay healthy and you’ll have a summer in the saddle ahead of you.