by Bonnie Marlewski-Probert
The good news is that spring is just around the corner. For those of you who never thought winter would end, it is ending soon and now is the time to start thinking about getting yourself, your barn and your horse ready.
This is the time of year when so many horse owners incorrectly assume the horse that they put up for the winter is going to be the same horse they pull out of its stall this spring - WRONG! In most cases, that horse has continued to be fed very well throughout the cold weather and in many cases, actually had an increase in the feeding program during the colder months while at the same time the exercise level dropped to near "couch potato!"
What many horse owners forget to recognize is that food is an energy producer, in the same way that putting a log onto a fire produces energy. When we continue to feed high protein feed (hay and grain products) but provide our horse with little or no exercise, we get the same result that we would get if we just kept throwing logs onto a fire, a hot burning inferno. What that means is that for many horse owners, you will be facing a very fresh animal during the first few sessions in the spring. So, what can you do about it? Plenty.
First, the best defense is a good offense. If you know that your horse is going to be "vegging" for the winter months, I suggest that you begin to increase his turnout time a week or two before you plan to ride for the first time. This will give him a chance to play and burn off some of that excess energy BEFORE you saddle-up to ride.
Second, in conjunction with more turnout time, take advantage of lunging your horse for 20 minutes a day. Be sure to balance out the workload equally to the right and to the left. This will not only allow and encourage your horse to get the bucks out of his system, but it is also a good way to help him get back into shape and begin to work on bending. Lunging around and around in a circle can be a very boring exercise for both you and your horse so mix it up using this time to train your horse to work off of verbal commands, teaching your horse a solid WHOA and working on transitions. All of these will not only give your horse much needed physical exercise, “top off his tank” but it will also keep your horse’s mind engaged.
For the sake of giving you all options, I will mention the option of cutting back on the protein level in your feeding program as you approach spring. I hesitate mentioning this option because dropping the protein level in the program requires feeding a lower quality hay or a lower protein level grain product and that means you will be going through the process of changing your horse’s diet. To do this safely and not risk either a colic or a founder episode, it is best to do this transition over a 1-2 week period and if you are only going to do it on a temporary basis, I would rather you increase his workload, rather than change over the feeding program for a month and then change it back a month later. Should you decide that changing the feeding program is the best option for you, be sure to wean your horse off the old and onto the new in small increments, over the course of a 10 - 14 day period.
Now is the time of year to take a thorough look at your equipment. Check your saddle and bridle for any damage. Pay special attention to those areas that undergo the most stress during normal use. This includes any piece of leather that is folded over onto itself, any areas that come into contact with buckles.
One final suggestion to make sure certain you and your horse are ready for springtime fun: now would be a good time for you, the rider, to focus on doing some daily stretching exercises. These will go a long way toward minimizing the aches and pains after that first springtime ride! Remember, for most of us, it wasn’t just our horse that stood around for the winter! As a courtesy to your horse, if you packed on a few extra pounds over the cold winter, now would be a good time to work on getting rid of those pounds.
By checking your equipment early in the season, taking a few weeks of groundwork to get yourself and your horse, ride ready after a winter of "vegging-out", you can return to another season of safe, enjoyable riding!
About the Author
Bonnie Marlewski-Probert worked in the horse world as a professional rider, teacher, trainer and speaker for many years. She is the author of more than 25 books and 1000 magazine articles. Bonnie is also the founder of Whitehall Publishing. If you have a book in you and are looking for a publisher, visit whitehallpublishing.com for more information. Bonnie now devotes a lot of her time working with animal-related non-profits to help them grow their organizations through her website at funding101.org
She is the creator of the Horse Tales for the Soul series of seven books that are sure to touch the heart of every horse lover. Learn more at horsetalesforthesoul.com