I love this time of year when everything is new and fresh. The new lambs are in the field, the daffodils and tulips are all around and the bluebells will soon be covering the woodlands like a sea of blue. But what does it mean for your horse and pony?
Well the spring grass is here and that brings with it not only lovely new green shoots for them to gorge on but also, first thing in the morning especially on dewy grass, lots of sugar. So now is the time to take special care over your equines feet. Like everything else they tend to grow quite quickly at this time of year and with the increase in sugar in the grass some association has been made with the advent or worsening of the condition known as Laminitis in some breeds. So keep checking your equines hoof health and also maintain regular visits from a good farrier to keep the hooves trimmed and, if applicable, well shod. Since Laminitis is also linked some believe to over eating avoid the temptation to over feed your equine. The spring grass is often very rich and this should be taken into account in your feeding regime. As it’s such an important issue especially this time of year we will be touching on laminitis care and best practise in our next newsletter – out soon!
Along with the warmer weather come flies. I would recommend stocking up with a good fly repellent. Some of those containing natural products such as tea tree oil are very effective and kind to the horse also. Be aware of horse flies and look out for them – on dark horses they are sometimes difficult to spot. Also be aware that ticks are in thick undergrowth at this time of year so extra care and vigilance is needed with your grooming if you ride your horse through such areas. You may find that some of your favourite bridal paths have become a little overgrown during the winter months and so just be a little careful when riding through them that your horse is not scratched or poked by sharp branches – remember he does not have a hard hat to protect him as you do! If in any doubt whatsovever stick to walking, not cantering through densley grown areas.
What other hazards are there for the rider at this time of year? Well apart from the obvious such as the increase in litter in the grass verges as motorists and cyclists sometimes discard their litter carelessly the not so obvious are animals and birds nuturing their young. Some will have nests or homes in hedgerows and undergrowth normally inaccessable to us but on a horse you may be riding right by their “front door”! This may in some instances lead them to become noisey and possibly even attack who they perceive to be a possible predator. So be wary when riding through fields, along hedge backs in the countryside. Having being once faced with an angry heron protecting her young I speak from “bitter” experience! She came out from a ditch right next to where we were, wings flapping, squarking and gave chase! Along the same lines also look out for new rabbit holes. It has never (thankfully) happened to me whilst on a horse but I have heard of horses suffering injury by falling or putting a foot in a rabbit hole.
What about your horses coat this time of year? Some, if their horse has been wintered outdoors may not have groomed them much during the winter for fear of upsetting the natural oil balance in the coat. Now’s the time either way to start if you haven’t already getting your horse’s coat groomed out and the dead hair brushed away as he sheds his winter coat in favour of a much slicker summer coat. Don’t be at all surprised however if you spend some time grooming him out and then as soon as you turn him out into the field again the first thing he does is goes and rolls in the dust! You’ve probably just made him itch all over and now he’s off for a good scratch and he’s content in addition to this the dirt can form a natural barrier against insects biting.
How your horse rolls however can be an indication of his general health. Most healthy horses will be able to roll right over from one side to the other without getting up inbetween. Some high withered horses will roll vigoruously on one side, get up again and then roll on the other side. This is because their conformation does not allow them to roll completely over and is nothing at all to worry about. Some horses however if they have a weak back may roll briefly on one side, get up and then walk away without rolling on the other side at all. Others will not roll at all. If you notice either of these two things my advice would be to at some stage have a Vet check your horse for discomfort in his back and/or other ailments.
Many equine chiropractors believe that rolling may help to correct naturally any vertebral subluxations – in fact it has been noticed that horses who are allowed to roll and run freely suffer less frequently with chiropractoral problems requiring treatment. So by allowing your equine to roll you may be reducing future health problems with him! There is nothing more satisfying I think anyway than coming back from a hack, untacking your horse, grooming him and turning him out then standing for a few moments and watching him roll to his hearts content!
When your horse rolls he is stretch all the muscles in his spine, neck, flanks, barrel and buttocks. Rolling helps maintain his strength and flexibility in all these areas. So – don’t be dismayed at a good grooming job gone to waste, rather rejoice in a happy, healthy horse!