It’s safe to say that it is very nearly spring time. With the clocks going forward, the lighter nights and hopefully warmer weather to look forward to, we can at last start to think of a time when we can thoroughly enjoy our hobby again instead of horse ownership just being a labour of love.
Of course, springtime brings its own troubles and concerns, so I’ve come up with a few useful tips to help you enjoy your horsey time to the full.
Check fencing and field condition
Although you may well be excited by the fact your horse can eventually go out in the field again, giving you a break from some of the mucking out, remember to check the condition of your fencing first. After several months of not using your field it is advisable to walk around the whole of the perimeter of your field, checking that no holes or weak spots have appeared in your fencing. If you use electric fencing test that the current is flowing through the tape all the way round your field, a line tester is a simple way to do this.
If any of your fencing tape looks worn or isn’t conducting electricity adequately, replace it now rather than waiting until your horse has escaped through this weak point. High visibility tape is available which has a thick plastic bead woven into the edges of it to make it more rigid and less likely to roll up. Alternatively there is a more economical choice of tape available, this still offers 8 conductors across its 40mm width but is not quite as heavy duty. Ensure also that all the posts are in a good condition, keeping the fencing tape taught and at the correct height for your horses. Replace damaged posts now to limit any inconvenience in summertime.
It is advisable to also check the quality of water drinker in your field, as these will definitely need a clean after the autumn and winter months. Check that the size of your drinker is sufficient for the amount of horses grazing in the field, and that the flow of water is clean and uninterrupted. Rubberised specifically designed drinkers are most advisable for field use, these minimise the risk of injury to your horse and also are less likely to get damaged if kicked. These are easily connected to the mains and will maintain a constant level of water.
Once you are confident that your fencing and water supply are efficient, you just need to check that the pasture itself is fit and safe for your horses to be turned out on. Try to walk round the whole of the field looking for rabbit holes, litter and poisonous plants. Remove all traces of plants that are known to be dangerous to horses, be especially careful to remove the roots of plants such as ragwort to reduce the risk of re-growth.
Fit a grazing mask to limit grass intake
Spring grass is extremely rich in nutrients and can often trigger laminitis and colic. Limiting the amount of grazing time when initially turning out your horse will help to prevent this, as can strip grazing; sectioning off part of the field to limit the amount of grass available. Another way of restricting your horse's grass intake is by using a grazing mask. This is a bucket shaped device which is fitted over your horse’s muzzle, it is secured by nylon or leather straps in a similar way to a head collar. It has small holes in the bottom which reduces the amount of grass your horse can eat but still allows drinking. Care must be taken to fit the muzzle correctly.
The Greenguard Grazing Mask and Halter are designed in collaboration with the veterinary profession for optimum horse comfort whilst effectively restricting grass intake.
For a more economical solution try the Comfort Grazing Muzzle.
Protect your horse’s legs with boots in initial excitement of turnout
Turning your horse out for the first time after winter can be a worrying time. The excitement of being free to run and play can result in injury to your horse. Although it is impossible to protect your horse totally from accident, the wearing of some type of leg boot can help to limit the risk. The type of boot you choose depends on what type of protection you require.
Brushing boots will help to protect against knocks and scrapes, but these will only really offer surface protection against cuts. Tendon and sports medicine boots can also help to prevent strains. Specially designed turnout boots can offer moderate leg protection and help in preventing mud fever. Care should always be taken when fitting boots for turnout use, as the extra movement in the field can result in boots moving out of place resulting in injury,. Mud and other debris from the paddock could also work its way inside the boot, causing rubbing or other injury. Over reach boots are often used for turnout as horses can tend to suffer from this type of injury in the field.
Use a shedding blade to help coat loss
The warmer weather in March invariably leads to coat loss; it can be difficult to effectively remove the large amount of hair that is coming out of your horse’s coat at this time of year. Brushing with a dandy brush quickly results in a clogged useless brush. An excellent tool to quickly and efficiently remove large amounts of hair is a shedding blade; this will effortlessly strip loose hair from the coat. Keep rugs as hair free as possible too by regularly brushing the lining.
Turnout head collar for catching your horse
The initial freedom after months of confinement can be hugely exciting for your horse and it can be something that he is unwilling to relinquish easily. Your normally loveable equine can become your worst enemy when you enter the field to try to catch him again. Whilst it is highly amusing to watch someone get close enough to almost touch their horse, only to have him turn around and run away again just as you put the head collar to his nose, it is definitely not going to make the person doing the catching laugh. Turning out in a head collar is something that should always be done with caution, and you should NEVER turn out in a standard nylon head collar as these will not break if your horse gets it caught on a fence. There are however specially designed turnout head collars, which have intentionally weak fittings which will snap if your horse does become entangled, freeing him immediately. Always make sure you don’t lead your horse in a turnout head collar. The weak fittings will give way if your horse pulls against you; place a regular head collar over the top of your turnout one. This way you have control leading and then can just leave the turnout head collar on when you release your horse.
Lightweight turnout/exercise sheet for wet, mild weather
The warmer weather in spring means you can finally put away your thick quilted turnout rugs. A waterproof turnout rug with no filling though is fantastic to keep your horse dry if there is a sudden downpour. Always try to choose a summer turnout that is breathable so you can be confident he won’t overheat. Turnout rugs with just 100g of filling are great for those slightly cooler spring days when you’d like to just have a slightly warmer rug.
Having a dry horse when you arrive at the stables also has the advantage that you don’t have to worry about putting your saddle on a wet or damp back. Similarly using a lightweight waterproof exercise sheet will ensure your horse stays dry when you go out hacking. This means you don’t have to spend hours waiting for him to dry before you can put a rug back on him again.
Of course you may still be keeping your horse stabled overnight so now is the time to start to lessen the warmth of those stable rugs too. A lighter weight stable rug can be more practical than switching to a fleece or cooler rug as bedding tends to stick to these less.
Clean and reproof winter rugs
How often do you come to put a rug on your horse at the beginning of winter and find either that all your rugs have broken straps, or that they have holes in them from accidents in the field. Make a point of being organised early and take all your un-needed winter rugs to be cleaned and if necessary re-proofed so you don’t have dirty rugs sitting around in your tack room all summer. You can then bag up and store the rugs away safely before further damage from mice occurs.
Washing, reproofing and repairing rugs can be a costly business though especially when you have several that need doing at once so why not have a go at doing your own.
Finally make use of the nice weather to have a good old spring clean of your stable, tack and feed room. Give everything a clean down and replace any worn or damaged bits of equipment now, so you can have a fun and worry free summer. Why not reorganise your whole tack room too then you can always find exactly what you are looking for? With a range of bright colours you can even colour co-ordinate your tack room with your horse’s wardrobe. Bridle and saddle racks are available from as little as £2.10. Keep your grooming kit organised and clean with this swing lid grooming box, treat yourself to the exclusive Oster Grooming Kit or perfect your pony with the Slip Not Grooming Kit.