Spring Ahead: Management strategies to get your horse ready for the new season

By: Dr. Lydia Gray

Houses get a spring cleaning, cars gets a spring tune-up . . . why shouldn’t horses receive the same extra attention when the weather turns warm and their duties change? Make the most of the professionals available to you, and learn as much as you can about your horse and his individual needs.

First, schedule a visit with your veterinarian. When you make the appointment, tell them you want a complete physical examination with extra time for questions and perhaps even a nutritional consultation. If you need a Coggins test, health certificate or any other tests or paperwork, be sure and mention that too. Review with your veterinarian any problems that occurred over the winter or concerns about the upcoming season. Between this discussion and your veterinarian’s physical exam findings, you should be able as a team to develop a treatment or preventive maintenance program that is customized for your horse.

During this visit, maximize the "quality time" with your veterinarian by getting involved:
  1. Learn how to body condition score and weight tape your horse properly
  2. Determine if the type or amount of hay, grain and supplements you feed needs to change
  3. Take a core sample of your hay and give it to your veterinarian for analysis
  4. Inspect your horse’s skin, coat and hooves for poor quality or disease conditions
  5. Discuss parasite control and submit a fecal sample
  6. Learn what new diseases may be occurring in your area and request specific vaccinations (such as equine herpesvirus – 1)
  7. With your veterinarian, examine your horse’s mouth and develop a dental plan (have your vet or an equine dentist float the teeth if necessary)
  8. Explain your riding and showing plans for the season and ask your veterinarian’s opinion on proper conditioning
  9. Evaluate your horse’s risk for conditions like colic, laminitis and ulcers by sharing turnout strategy: how much time will he been in a stall vs. turned out and will he have access to pasture
  10. Find out if your horse may benefit from electrolytes, antioxidants, joint supplements or other products if you plan to travel or show
Other professionals you may need to schedule visits with include your farrier, equine dentist and nutritionist. If you’re responsible for maintaining pastures, you may want to work with someone from a university, county extension office or even feed dealer to prepare your pastures so they can support your horse(s) activity and nutrition.

Finally, whether you compete or just ride for fun, work with your trainer (if you have one) to design a training and conditioning program so that your horse is fit mentally and physically for his task. Incorporate your veterinarian’s recommendations on proper conditioning, and remember that training is teaching your horse skills and conditioning is improving his flexibility, muscular strength and cardiovascular fitness. You need both programs to succeed and to keep your horse sound. In general, increase the intensity of your horse’s work OR the length/time but not both at the same time. For example, if you have been walking your horse for 30 minutes a day during the winter, either walk for 25 minutes and trot for 5 minutes OR walk for 45 minutes.

For detailed instructions on how to prepare your horse for a specific discipline, such as dressage, three-day eventing or reining, read Conditioning Sport Horses by Dr. Hilary M. Clayton.

About Dr. Lydia Gray

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