Feature Story: Spring Horse Health Priorities

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Equine Wellness Assessments Should be Done Before the Busy Riding Season

In many ways, spring marks the new year for equine activities. For many riders and their horses, winter is a time to hunker down and rest. But even if you keep your horse in work year-round, spring is a great time to schedule a visit from your veterinarian, assess the overall health and wellness of your horse, and strategize ways to keep him sound and happy as the busy season approaches. 

Schedule a Visit with Your Veterinarian

The beginning of the warmer season marks a transition to longer days and warmer temperatures. This shift leads to many changes in our horses’ bodies. It’s a great time to assess and attend to any needed dental issues, check for parasites with fecal samples, vaccinate, and perhaps do routine bloodwork. A general health exam should be done at least once per year for all horses. The veterinary exam should, at the very least, include your veterinarian listening to your horse’s lungs and heart for abnormalities, checking respiration and pulse, assessing weight, examining and perhaps floating teeth, inspecting hooves, and looking closely at his eyes. 

Ask your veterinarian to recommend which vaccinations you need for your planned activities, location, and for where you might be traveling with your horse. It’s important to have these vaccinations on board and at their peak effectiveness before you start conditioning and hauling out to shows, clinics, or trail rides where there’s potential for exposing your horse to infectious disease. 

Also, check regulations for proof of vaccinations, negative Coggins test, and/or health papers mandated by show managers, clinic organizers, and crossing state or national borders. Be aware of how long each of these tests/proof of vaccinations last, as requirements for organizations and states can vary. 

Bloodwork that’s worth analyzing yearly includes glucose levels, plasma ACTH (for Cushings), general health markers for kidney and liver function, and any others that your veterinarian recommends depending on the specific needs of your horse. 

Other Spring Wellness Considerations

Saddle fit assessment. This might be a good time to schedule a visit with a reputable saddle fitter to assess if your saddle is still right for your horse (and you). Horses’ bodies change with age, weight fluctuations, and muscle development, so having some well-educated eyes on your saddle fit might save your horse some pain before you increase his workload. 

Photo Courtesy Kim Roe, Blue Gate Farm

Body work. A good body worker can tell you a lot about any physical issues your horse may dealing with. They can feel with their hands what you will feel under saddle and will be able to help your horse feel his best before the work increases, perhaps diverting any behavioral problems before they arise. Body workers can also give you exercises to do on the ground and under saddle to help your horse overcome his issues before they become a serious problem. 

Conditioning. Many horses lose a good deal of fitness and muscle in the winter months if they have been out of work or had their workload reduced. Be thoughtful and creative in how you condition your horse to ward off injuries. Consider watching the clock and increase the amount of time under saddle slowly—5 or 10 minutes every 3 or 4 rides. Get out on gentle trails, pony your horse, and cross train with obstacles and varied footing. 

Feed changes and spring pasture. The new season brings rich spring grass. Go slowly and carefully as you introduce your horse back onto pasture or rotate to new fields. Keep an eye on any weight gain, and feel their hooves daily for heat or pulses in their feet. One warm day can dramatically increase the sugar content in pasture grasses, which can cause laminitis and a colic episode. Consider the use of a grazing muzzle on horses at risk of overeating or laminitis.

Spring is often when we run out of the hay we’ve been feeding all winter or when we begin to transition to new feed. Always make any changes to feed slowly, adding a pound or two of new hay per day as you slowly reduce the old. 

Horse ownership involves a lot more than just throwing a saddle on and going for a ride. Keeping your horse healthy and sound in body and mind will increase your enjoyment and his longevity. Keep good records and be diligent about your horse’s wellness routine. Happy riding! 

See this article in the March/April 2023 online edition:

March/April 2023

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