Shake Off the Winter Doldrums and Get Back in the Saddle

Is your horse ready for spring riding?
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Is your horse ready for spring riding?

Mother nature is packing away her winter coat and preparing for spring, and it’s time for horse owners to do the same. Shaking off the winter doldrums and transitioning your horse’s routine takes time and effort. Preparing a horse for spring shouldn’t be a rushed process. Dr. Scott Hancock, DVM, Equine Professional Services Veterinarian at Boehringer Ingelheim, talks about the ways horse owners can ready their horse for the warmer season.

Condition Your Horse

Horses aren’t very different from us. After a long winter without training, you wouldn’t want to run a marathon. The same can be said for horses. Just like us, horses need to condition and train after a long winter. If a horse is stalled in the winter and worked lightly or not at all, it’s important to start off spring with a gradual conditioning program.

“You wouldn't want to bring a horse out of winter rest and then take him on a 20-mile trail ride,” says Dr. Hancock. “Horse owners may be anxious to start riding as soon as possible, but it’s best to begin with light exercise. Horse owners should develop a healthy spring conditioning schedule best suited for the horse’s needs.”

Supplements – To Use or Not to Use?

Horse owners may be tempted to feed supplements before riding again in the spring. Feeding grains, vitamins or minerals should be a decision made based on the horse’s current diet. “Sometimes excessive intake of one mineral or vitamin may actually negatively affect the absorption of another,” adds Dr. Hancock.

If possible, hay should be analyzed to understand what basic nutrients the horse is taking in. After this, an equine nutritionist can point out what deficiencies there are in the horse’s diet and if those nutrients can be provided through supplements. “Including supplements in a horse’s diet is case dependent on the dietary intake, use and condition of the horse,” says Dr. Hancock.

Spring Shoeing

Some horse owners will opt to pull shoes in the winter and simply keep hooves trimmed. But along with spring comes more frequent riding and training. Depending on the type of work, and the terrain, landscape, use and length of average ride if trail riding, many horse owners will put shoes back on their horse for protection.

Dr. Hancock adds, “A shoeing decision depends on the particular horse, the condition of the foot, and the specific use of the horse.”

General Health Checkup

As a rule of thumb, spring is a timely opportunity for a thorough physical exam. It gives horse owners the chance to discuss health issues that commonly arise in the spring.

“As far as dental health, I was always an advocate in my practice to check teeth twice a year. We made it a habit to do a thorough oral exam, looking into a horse’s mouth and seeing how they've done in the past six months. If you don't look, you don't find. So there's always value in having a look,” recommends Dr. Hancock. Additionally, many veterinarians will opt for a fecal exam in the spring to help identify the parasite loads and determine if there is need for intervention.

Dr. Hancock also emphasizes vaccinating early with an updated, comprehensive vaccine. “I also stress early vaccinating, as mosquito season is right around the corner and horses are exposed to more environmental factors,” adds Dr. Hancock.

Horse owners should also keep an eye out for delayed coat shedding. “What we tell horse owners to especially look for in the spring is a horse that's slow to shed compared to its peers,” says Dr. Hancock. “A veterinarian may suggest certain laboratory testing at this time to rule out issues like Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID).”

A full list of the clinical signs of PPID can be found at http://idppid.com/.

In January 2017, Merial became part of the Boehringer Ingelheim group. As the second largest animal health business in the world, Boehringer Ingelheim is committed to making the industry even better at improving animal health. With more than 10,000 employees worldwide, Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health has products available in more than 150 markets and a global presence in 99 countries. For more information about Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health, click here.