By Dr. Michael Lowder, DVM, MS
Springtime is here, and the best of the year is yet to come. Now is the time to get your horse into shape for the great summer to come. Whether showing cutting or just plain pleasure riding, your horse is just like any other athlete – they may need a little fine-tuning before the activities of the spring and summer.
Like ourselves, your horse is a product of his genetics, but his nutrition and fitness is not. If you’re like me, I spend my day with list of things to do that in the most part get done over the next few days.
First, get your veterinarian out to perform a yearly examination on your horse. This is the best money a horseman can invest, and is integral for making the upcoming season a success. Your veterinarian will examine the overall general health of your horse and will also check for some diseases that might be age or activity related to your specific riding style. Once this examination is complete, discuss the findings with your veterinarian and how it may relate to your upcoming activities.
Second, get vaccinated. Vaccines are constantly undergoing change and improvement. Don’t wait until the week before the trail ride to get your horse updated. It takes a few weeks for the vaccines to have their full effect and in some cases, your horse may need to get a booster shot four to six weeks later. For current recommendations on vaccinations, look at the suggestions offered by the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP Vaccination Guidelines).
Now remember, if your horse had a reaction to a vaccination last year, your veterinarian must be alerted! He may consider giving the vaccines in the horse’s rump to keep the neck from getting too sore. Sore-necked horses don’t eat and drink well, much less perform.
Third, nutrition is seen on the outside of your horse. Yes, we feed for a healthy digestive tract, but we all know it’s what’s on the outside that we like. Get those pastures ready for spring planting and/or fertilizing. In order to do this correctly, take a soil sample now to your county agent for soil testing. Soil testing will tell you how much fertilizer to apply for your specific type of pasture. In addition, it will tell you how much lime your soil needs. You need to apply the lime ninety days before you fertilize your pasture for the grass to utilize the fertilizer appropriately.
It’s not too early to start making your summer contacts for hay. The average square bale will take about seven cubic feet for storage. Thus, a 20 feet by 40 feet long shed that is 10 feet tall will store about 1140 bales of hay (20 x 40 x 10= 8000 cubic feet divided by 7 cubic feet = 1142 bales).
Now if you have a summer of showing ahead of you, think about your grain source too. If you are just going to some regional shows then you should be able to take enough feed for your horses. However, if you are hauling several horses or going to be traveling nationally, then I would suggest you feed a national brand of horse feed. This way you can purchase the same feed in whatever little town you happen to be and there will be no changes with your horse’s diet.
Fourth, shoeing is always a hassle if your horse’s hooves are not in good shape. Take the time to condition the hooves of your horse for the up coming season. “No hoof, no horse” is a true saying. Apply a hoof conditioner, and feed a hoof supplement if your horse has bad hooves and get him ready to hold a pair of shoes on.
Needless to say, discuss hoof care with both your veterinarian and farrier. Find a farrier that you like and will work with you. Don’t adjust the angle of your horse’s hooves the week before the big show. Make changes slowly – remember the hoof angle affects the strain on the tendons.
Fifth, get your truck and trailer serviced ahead of the spring rush. Make sure you have spare tires and the axle hubs are packed with fresh grease. Be sure and check the flooring of your trailer. If the floor is made of wood, deteriorating boards can be a dangerous hazard.
Sixth, your horse’s physical shape may have changed over the winter months and have a professional tack person check your saddle for proper fitting. Look and feel your bit for rusted and/or sharp edges that may require some maintenance or replacement.
Seventh, lastly and most important don’t forget your own physical fitness. A lot of us let ourselves go over the winter months, and a little conditioning will do a lot of good to keep you in the saddle. Have a great summer and enjoy your horses!
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Reprinted with permission by Horse City
Dr. Michael Lowder, DVM, MS, is an associate professor at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine and the Veterinarian Health Advisor to HorseCity.com.
Horsecity.com is owned and operated by Morris Communications Company, LLC, a publishing company that is heavily involved in newspapers, magazines, radio stations and websites across the country. It offers more in-depth horse news and information than any other equine website online and has been awarded acclaim by Forbes and the American Horse Publications.
Purchase all your equine supplies, for spring horse showing and other needs, at Jeffers Equine.