A good day for grazing....

The beginning of May always seems like “real” spring to me. Living in Connecticut for so many years showed me the folly of believing that spring began on the day of the Vernal Equinox. Here in Virginia, the season is several weeks ahead of southern New England, but rooted deep in my subconscious is the feeling that we could still get dumped on with a few more inches of snow well into April…..

I thought I’d share some things to consider as we hit full stride on spring cleaning season (I don’t know about you, but to me, spring cleaning means washing the horse blankets and giving the hayloft a good clearing – washing drapes and cleaning carpets? I don’t think so!)

If you haven’t already done so, be sure to arrange with your vet for your horses’ spring vaccines. Many of the diseases we work to prevent through a vaccination program are insect borne, so you want to be sure your horses are protected. Your vet will also draw blood for a Coggins Test, which tests for EIA, or Equine Infectious Anemia. EIA is a viral disease for which there is currently no vaccine or cure. Most states require a horse to have a negative Coggins test if it’s being transported. The bloodtest is typically required to be within the past 12 months, although if you’re traveling to a competition, check the general rules as some places want a Coggins test which was drawn within the last 6 months.

While the vet is there – ask him or her to provide you with a good de-worming regimen for the horses. I recently read an interesting article on TheHorse.com regarding whether rotation of deworming products is still a good idea. You can read the article here: http://www.thehorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=13695. Along with vaccines and deworming, your vet can provide a general checkup for your horse, recommend any special feeding and conditioning suggestions and check the horse’s teeth to see that he’s receiving maximum benefit from his feed. As many of us without access to an indoor ride more in the spring than over the winter, a proper dental checkup in the spring can also prevent bitting issues which may present themselves as evasion or resistance.

Usually, horses that have required higher maintenance over the winter (older horses and other hard-keepers) will begin to pick up weight as the grass really starts to come in. Although many horse dealers used to say that “Fat is the best color”, you need to monitor your horse’s intake of fresh grass as an over abundance can lead to colic and founder. Many people with ponies realize that grazing often has to be rather limited or they run the risk of the pony foundering. The use of grazing muzzles or part-day of turnout can be essential to management of a pony who has foundered.

Generally in the summer once the bugs become bothersome and heat becomes oppressive, I like to turn my stabled horses out at night and have them in during the day. For your horses which live out, be sure that their water supply is adequate to meet the increased demands of the hotter weather. You’ll also find that “scum” (a nice technical term) tends to accumulate in buckets and water troughs much more quickly when the weather is warm. Be sure to scrub your buckets thoroughly. I use a little bleach once a week or so to help kill the scum, then rinse thoroughly. I’ve heard that putting a catfish in a larger water trough will keep the trough clean, but I’ve never tried it personally…

One last thing to add to the list (for now at least) is to be sure your horse is protected against insects – particularly mosquitos and ticks. Ticks transmit Lyme Disease with can be a real problem in horses (as in humans) – so be sure you’re applying an insect repellant under the horse’s jaw, in the folds of skin by his elbows, under his chest and up in the groin area – all of these are favorite tick “hang outs”.

Now that you’ve run through some of the spring chores to keep your horse healthy and happy for another season – go on out – brush off a couple of more layers of winter hair and go enjoy a nice ride (remember to take it easy if you haven’t ridden much over the winter – your horse and your body will both thank you for gentle conditioning)!

Until next time, I hope you enjoy your Horsey Life!