Reconditioning After a Winter Break

Nutrena Warmblood Horse Annick-7120If you live in a state that has cold winters, chances are that even if you have an indoor arena you are taking a break on those dreaded frigid dead-of-winter weeks or months. But when things begin to thaw and your horse begins to shed like crazy, it’s time to get back to it! If your horse has had more than three weeks off, he will need to be worked back into a routine strategically in order to help reduce the risk of over-stressing or injuring him in the process.

As eager as you are to get back to jumping, reining or piaff-ing, it’s best to start slow. Think of how you feel the first day back to the gym after a long break. Now picture yourself about 10x the size that you are now, in the gym, out of shape. It’s exhausting just thinking about it! Your horse might have built up energy and seem to be ready to get right to it, but it’s best to work him up slowly to help avoid an injury that could set you back even further.

Plan on a six to eight week conditioning schedule depending on how much time your horse has had off. Start with low impact hacking for about 15 minutes, working only at the walk. You could also utilize a hot walker if you have one available or hand-walk if you would like. Unless your horse is very obedient on the lunge line, it’s not a recommended way to get him into shape just in case he is extra excitable. Bolting away and galloping in a small circle on the lunge could result in injury to him or even you.

5-7 days after you begin your walking routine add in 5 minutes of trot work each day. After two weeks of solid walk-trot work you can gradually introduce the canter, again working up slowly from 5 minutes just as you did the trot. After thirty days of flat work you can begin to add more strenuous activity to your conditioning program like jumping or speed work (barrels) but work up slowly. Figure in another month to get your horse back to where he was before he took the break. Begin with jumping a single, low fence both directions for the first week, then add in a line and work your way back to a full course. Once you are jumping a course at a smaller height, gradually increase the size of your fences and the complexity of the course.

If you are worried that you or your horse might get bored working on the flat, remember that flatwork is the foundation for your riding no matter what discipline you ride. It’s a good time for you to work on yourself as well, starting you out on the right foot (or hoof) for the season. Work on your position or ride with no stirrups. When your horse is feeling more fit, do some lateral work and get him really listening to your aids so he’s sharp when the time comes to compete.

As far as feed is concerned, as you are reconditioning, the correct feeding program will depend on what your horse’s body condition score is coming out of his break. If he is on the thin side, you will want to increase his feeding rate as you work him harder or include a fat supplement. Make sure to always provide fresh, clean water and free choice hay. If he is on the heavier side of the scale, keep his feeding rate the same but keep an eye on that body condition score as you may need to adjust your feeding rate as he gets back into shape and is working harder.

Winter Horse Care Must-Haves

As with any season, winter has a few must-Dover Saddlery Winter Horse Care Must Haveshave horse care items that will help to keep your horses happy and healthy during the colder months. Read on to discover a few items that will be helpful in any barn this winter.

The Perfect Winter Horse Blanket

Not all horse blankets are created equal. In fact, there are several types of blankets that are made for a wide variety of horse sizes, personalities and activity levels. A sheet, medium-weight blanket and a heavy blanket with a neck cover are three types of blankets that would be beneficial for many horses in the winter. A turnout sheet can also provide an additional level of warmth and protection when layered over stable blankets. Below are a few pointers on the types of blankets that are winter must-haves.

  • Turnout Sheet: A turnout sheet is the perfect option for sunny winter days, when the temperatures are still above freezing. A good turnout sheet should be durable, waterproof and fit comfortably over your horse’s indoor stable blankets to allow for multiple uses.
  • Medium Turnout Blanket: A medium turnout blanket should be used as the temperature starts to drop. The medium turnout blanket will have a liner that attaches to the exterior shell or be made with insulating materials. Brands such as WeatherBeeta, Rambo and Rhino all make good medium turnout blankets that can be used throughout the winter.
  • Heavy Turnout Blanket with Neck Cover: A heavy turnout blanket with a neck cover is the ideal blanket for freezing temperatures. As the name suggests, the heavy blanket is the warmest option, and the neck cover provides much needed protection for your horse’s neck, especially if he is clipped. A heavy turnout blanket with a neck cover can be used in combination with a light sheet for extremely chilly winter days.

Winter Horse Care Supplies

There are several other types of horse care supplies that can be useful in the colder winter months. From wound care to extra hoof-picks, adding the following items to your supply list will help make for a smooth winter:

  • First-aid kit: Stock up on supplies such as vet-wrap, Betadine, gauze, Corona ointment, a thermometer and tri-care wound ointment.
  • Extra hoof picks: During the winter your horse’s feet can become packed with debris, snow, ice and mud. Be sure to keep extra hoof picks handy to remove ice balls and help keep your horse from getting thrush and other hoof ailments.
  • SleekEZ or Shed ‘n’ Blade: Shedding products can help encourage healthy winter coat growth. As horses’ hair grows, the SleekEZ or Shed ‘n’ Blade can be used to get rid of the old hair and help new, healthy hair grow.
  • Clippers: Clippers, as well as a variety of clipper blades, come in handy during the winter for body clipping your horse if necessary. Body clipping can be beneficial if your horse regularly works up a sweat while being ridden, as it will help the horse cool down faster and avoid catching a chill.
  • Extra food, water and supplements: Being prepared is the best method for keeping your horses healthy and happy during the winter months. Keep extra grain, hay, jugs of water, bran and additional supplements on hand for use during inclement weather. It is also a good idea to stock up on a few extra bags of shavings or straw — extra bedding will come in handy on the days that the weather is too harsh for turnout.
  • Heated buckets: If you don’t have warm water to fill your horse’s water buckets, then you should consider purchasing heated buckets. In order to help keep your horse happy and healthy, it is important to have access to unfrozen water to help stay hydrated.
  • Leather care and tack room heaters: During the winter it is easy for leather tack to become cracked and dry. With this in mind, try to keep your tack room warm. Leather conditioners, soap and oil can be used to keep your saddles, bridles and other horse tack clean and supple during the harsh winter months.

As you prepare for the winter weather, remember that it is always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared. Throughout the winter, stay tuned to weather updates and remember to keep an extra supply of food, fresh water, bedding and blankets handy at all times.

Ashly Snell works at Dover Saddlery and enjoys eventing with and caring for her two Dutch Warmbloods. She has been an avid equestrian for 20 years.

Prepare Your Horse For The Winter Months

Toby Snow 28Throughout the year, tending to your horse’s needs requires you to be prepared for a variety of conditions. When the temperature falls and the winds grow colder, you should be prepared with the proper gear, supplies and accessories to keep your horse healthy and happy during the upcoming months. Learn more about caring for your horse during the winter so you can be prepared well before the first frost.

Water and Food

  • Food for Health and Warmth. Food digestion is a primary source of warmth for your horse, which means your horse’s caloric needs can increase during the colder months. Use quality forage, combined with grain, as recommended by an equine nutritionist to sustain warmth and maintain caloric intake.
  • Wintertime Hydration. Even though your horse might eat snow while it’s outside, fresh water is still important for wintertime hydration. A supply of (non-frozen) water, ideally above 45 degrees, will keep your horse hydrated and aid in digestion.
  • Mouth Health. Healthy teeth and mouth allow your horse to drink and eat without discomfort. It’s wise to have an equine veterinarian check your horse’s teeth and mouth to ensure he can eat comfortably and maintain the right caloric intake for weight maintenance throughout winter.

Comfort and Warmth

  • Your Horse’s Natural Coat. If possible, allow your horse’s coat to grow during the winter months. Its natural thickness provides your horse with the extra insulation needed to keep its body warm as the weather gets colder, as a layer of warm air is trapped below the surface.
  • Provide Extra Warmth. There are times when you must clip your horse’s coat to keep them cool while working in the winter or in preparation for a show . For this reason, or because you’ve got an older horse, extra warmth can increase the horse’s comfort throughout winter. A waterproof, breathable blanket or coat will come in handy for days when your horse needs an extra layer to stay warm.
  • Shelter During Winter. The warmest natural coat isn’t always enough to protect your horse from cold temperatures. A strong wind can cut right through it, and a wet coat can quickly lose its insulating ability. Provide your horse with shelter from wind, snow and rain so it can enjoy pasture time and still have access to an area that will protect it from the elements.
  • Wintertime Riding. When riding your horse during the winter months, be careful to warm them up properly and ensure any sweaty areas are fully dried since this can cause the horse to later become chilled. Likewise, maintain care of horse riding tack and the proper saddle so that it doesn’t become cracked and dry from the cold air, causing it to become less effective.

Tending to Health

  • Controlling Parasites. Consult with the equine veterinarian for wintertime parasite control. Once the first frost has occurred, you may want to give your horse something to kill bot larvae.
  • Barn Pest Control. People and horses aren’t the only creatures that seek warm places in wintertime. Other pests are likely to find their way into the barn. Discourage and control pests by keeping food storage in sealed containers. Likewise, store blankets, leather products and other materials that could be used for nests in sealed storage spaces.
  • Vaccinations. Good health is pivotal to staying comfortable and warm from the first frost until the temperatures begin to rise again. Part of your effort to maintain your horse’s health should include any necessary vaccinations as autumn transitions to winter.
  • Take Care of Hooves. Hoof growth occurs throughout the year. Maintain hoof care year-round. Consider having your farrier use winter studs for traction and snowball pads to keep snow from accumulating inside the bottom of the hoof.

Wintertime Storage

Make it easy to access everything you need throughout the winter months by putting away the seasonal items you won’t need again until spring. By organizing your barn storage space, you can avoid wasting time searching for supplies and spend it grooming or caring for your horse. In conjunction with preparing your horse for winter, you can also be prepared by getting organized and ready to spend quality time with your equine friend this winter.

Ashly Snell works at Dover Saddlery and has been an avid equestrian for 20 years. She currently enjoys eventing with and caring for her two Dutch Warmbloods.

Does My Horse Need a Diet or Exercise Change?

I recently taught an Equine Nutrition class to a group of seniors at an area college.  Our focus for the classroom lecture was dietary assessment by body condition scoring, weight and topline evaluation.   After the lecture I conducted a lab to apply hands on practice of what we had just reviewed.

One of the students asked if we could evaluate her horse during the lab session. The evaluation proved to be a classroom classic. The horse was a 4 year old Warmblood gelding. He was 17.1 hands and 1350 pounds. The horse at first glance appeared to be round and in good flesh, but as I ran my hands over his withers and back you could feel a lack of muscle and coverage.hand feeding red size

I asked the student what the horse’s current diet consisted of, she replied 20 pounds of first cutting hay per day and 8 pounds of locally grown oats. The calorie content of the diet appeared to be sufficient, however the amino acid balance was lacking. The student also mentioned she had her saddle recently refitted and the chiropractor out because the horse was having back issues.

With the move to college, the horse’s workload had increased and the need for additional fortification was obvious. I suggested that the student purchase a ration balancer to balance the needs of the young horse’s diet and help replenish his topline.

One of the students in the lab then challenged my recommendation.  She stated that she was an Equine Physiology major and felt my diagnosis was incorrect. She felt that by working the horse in a more collected manner, engaging his hind quarters and coming up under him would help to strengthen and develop his topline. She thought he looked fat and did not need to change his diet.

I went on to explain that the horse’s current diet was similar to a young child that would be on a straight rice diet, which is deficient in amino acids. You would see a round abdomen, but lack of muscle mass. If that child were getting ready to compete in a marathon, I doubt running extra laps would increase muscle mass, unless we supplemented the diet properly.

Again, your horse will tell you what is lacking in his diet, if you just take the time to look.

Blood Circulation Matters to Horses

Henry MusclesYour horse’s circulation impacts many areas of his life and health,  delivering oxygen and nutrients to every cell in his body while aiding in various body functions. Because of this, good circulation offers many tangible benefits. It helps to keep your horse’s muscles strong, ensure optimal hoof health, speed recovery after injury or disease, reduce the pain and swelling of arthritis, and even improve your horse’s coat.

Here are the basics

With so much riding on good circulation (no pun intended) it’s important to aid that natural process in your horse as much as possible. Here are a few basic blood circulation improvement tips for your horse.

  • Exercise: Regular exercise is the first thing to consider if you want to maintain or improve your horse’s circulation. Regular exercise gets the muscles contracting and the heart pumping, thereby increasing blood flow to all your horse’s tissues and organs. On the correct footing, exercise helps to increase blood circulation to your horse’s hooves as well, encouraging proper formation and growth.
  • Grooming: Grooming should always be a part of your horse’s care routine. Brushing removes dirt, dead skin cells and shed hair, while also increasing blood flow to the skin, which will give your horse a healthier coat. Consider replacing metal or plastic curry combs with rubber ones. The rubber “fingers” on the comb work just as well and without the possibility of scratching your horse’s skin.
  • Massage: Massage is a great way to increase your horse’s circulation. It can benefit both the muscles and the skin, and is also a wonderful way to spend quality time with your horse. You can simply massage your horse’s back and shoulder muscles with your hands, just as you would a person. Watch your horse for clues as to what feels good and what doesn’t. Electric equine massagers are also available. Another option to consider is using a massaging gel pad under your saddle. This gives your horse a gentle massage every time you ride, encouraging blood flow to the muscles in his back while preventing saddle sores at the same time.
  • Relaxation: One unique aspect of the horse circulatory system, according to an article on Equimed.com, is the role the spleen plays in blood circulation. As in all mammals, your horse’s spleen removes damaged and diseased red and white blood cells from the blood. But, unlike in other animals, your horse’s spleen can enlarge and contract. In a relaxed state, the spleen enlarges, allowing in more blood and making it possible for the organ to work more efficiently as it cleans the blood. Continual stress can impede this process, since both stress and exercise cause the spleen to contract. By helping your horse into a relaxed state, you are allowing this normal and healthy process to take place. Relaxing activities might include brushing, massage, bathing or simply allowing your horse time to unwind in an open pasture.
  • Keep it cool: When your horse is overheated, according to an article on Horse & Rider, vessels in both his skin and lungs enlarge. This is the body’s natural attempt to shed excess body heat. Unfortunately, this also means that blood is being shunted away from your horse’s brain and major organs. By educating yourself on the dangers of overheating in horses and taking the necessary steps to prevent it, you are not only saving your horse from heat stress, you are also aiding his overall circulation.
  • High-tech options: Horse owners today have access to some amazing high-tech options for improving their horses’ circulation; options that weren’t available just a few years ago. Circulation-improving products include ceramic infused blankets designed to radiate body heat back into the muscles, vibrating stall floors and even hyperbaric chambers designed just for horses.

You know your horse and which of these techniques he will or won’t tolerate. Remember, even the most even-tempered horse can kick or bite when it feels provoked, so always approach your horse with reasonable caution.

Of course, you should also check with your veterinarian before adding any new process to your horse’s health care routine. Every horse has different needs and health issues; your vet can tell you which of the options discussed above are best for your horse’s individual needs.

Ashly Snell works at Dover Saddlery and enjoys eventing with and caring for her two Dutch Warmbloods. She has been an avid equestrian for 20 years.

First Aid Horse Essentials

First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit Photo Credit: Dover Saddlery (www.DoverSaddlery.com)

Being prepared to immediately give your horse first aid in the event of an illness or injury might make a big difference in the outcome of the situation. It’s wise to be prepared in case something happens, and an equine first-aid kit helps to ensure that you can care for your horse while waiting for an equine veterinarian to arrive. Start creating a basic first-aid kit with these helpful items.

Equine First-Aid Kit Basics

  • Flashlight. During the early morning hours, as sunset approaches or even in dark, tree-covered areas, a flashlight can be useful when assessing the problem.
  • Thermometer. Having a thermometer on hand lets you determine if your horse has a normal temperature. Typically this is between 99 and 101.5 Fahrenheit, but taking your horse’s temperature regularly when he is healthy will help determine what is normal for your particular horse.
  • Stethoscope. A horse’s heartbeat can be heard loudest behind its left elbow. A stethoscope also comes in handy for listening to the gut.
  • Antibiotic ointment. Superficial wounds and scrapes can be treated with antibiotic ointment to help prevent infection.
  • Diluted iodine. Any cuts, scrapes or puncture wounds can be flushed out with diluted iodine and covered to keep them from drying until the vet comes to treat them.
  • Electrolytes. Help protect your horse from dehydration and lethargy by carrying a powder or paste form of electrolytes in your first-aid kit.
  • Scissors or knife. It’s important to have something for cutting bandaging material, or for freeing a horse caught in a rope or other entanglement. Always exercise caution when using scissors around your horse.
  • Bandaging materials. A variety of bandaging materials are good to have on hand. Include some of the following in your first aid kit: nonstick gauze and cotton padding, duct tape and disposable diapers, sterile gauze and elastoplast, white adhesive medical tape, plastic wrap and cotton leg wraps.
  • Fly repellant. Keep pesty flies away from an open wound that can’t be covered with a bandage by applying fly repellant around the wound, but not directly on it.
  • Cooling packs. Ice packs that become cold when you bend or twist them could be useful when cold therapy is recommended by the equine veterinarian.

When First Aid is Needed

Before you consider administering any type of first aid to your horse, there are several things to consider. Start by calming yourself; your horse might already be scared and excited, and being in a panic yourself will only exacerbate the situation. Collect your thoughts and proceed by caring for your horse in a calm, slow manner. At that time, you should assess your horse’s attitude and behavior. If you’re not 100 percent sure that it’s OK to approach him safely and check the injury or problem, then wait until professional help arrives. Should you be able to safely approach your horse, it can be helpful to talk to him quietly and gently rub his neck for reassurance. Move the horse to a quiet location, if possible.

Once you have your horse secure, call your veterinarian so they can assess the injury or illness. Having a first-aid kit on hand allows you to administer initial care to your horse if needed while waiting for the vet. In addition to having a first-aid kit in the barn, it’s also helpful to have a travel kit that you can bring with you each time you take your horse off your property. While the list above can serve as a base to help you get started  as you put together an effective kit, always make sure that you consult your veterinarian on what other items will complete your first-aid kit so you are never left stranded.

Ashly Snell works at Dover Saddlery and has been an avid equestrian for 20 years. She currently enjoys eventing with and caring for her two Dutch Warmbloods.

Summer Horse Grooming Care

Henry MusclesWhile it’s a priority to look pristine during the show circuit summer months, grooming is also important for health and comfort. Whether it’s a lazy day in the pasture, or your horse is active with training and riding, the summer grooming care you provide is essential. Proper care helps to increase your horse’s comfort when the sun is bright and the temperatures are on the rise. It also protects your horse’s coat and skin from irritating conditions. Use these grooming tips to keep your horse comfortable and healthy throughout the summer.

Tips to Keep Your Horse Clean, Comfortable and Cool This Summer

  1. Give Your Horse a Trim. Mane, tail and coat care is an integral part of keeping your horse cool in hot weather. Trim your horse’s mane and tail, and keep their coat clipped if it isn’t shedding out properly to avoid extra, unnecessary warmth. A good grooming kit for trimming and clipping will make the task easier for you and comfortable for the horse. Every other week, take a couple minutes to run the clippers over your horse’s bridlepath to help bridles and halters sit comfortably without interference.
  2. Keep Cool with Sponge Baths. Following exercise, giving your horse’s face a sponge bath will help prevent fungal hair loss. Continue the cool sponge bath over his entire body to reduce body temperature and provide relief from the heat. Excessive bathing with shampoo and cleansers isn’t good for a horse’s skin or coat, but a cool sponge bath is always an option. On particularly hot days, spritz a 50/50 mixture of cool water and rubbing alcohol over your horse’s body (not the face) to aid sweating and cooling.
  3. Have Good Grooming Supplies On-Hand. A good quality grooming kit is essential throughout the year, and will help you keep your equine friend cool during summertime. Have horse shampoo, conditioner and hair polish available for full grooming or pre-competition sessions. Add sponges of various sizes, a hand mitt and sweat scraper to your grooming supplies so that you have all you need in one kit when you’re ready to spend time grooming and bathing your horse.
  4. Keep Pesky Insects at Bay. When temperatures rise, summer pests become more active. A horse that has to run away or constantly flick its tail to get away from biting flies and other pesky insects is expending energy needlessly. As you spend time keeping your horse cool, also take a few minutes to protect him from bugs. Use appropriate fly masks and insect sprays to repel insects while your horse is out of the barn. Stable and barn traps set up in the barn will keep your horse comfortable inside so he doesn’t work up a sweat trying to fend off gnats, mosquitoes or flies.
  5. Protect from the Sun. During the summer months, use horse shampoo with sunscreen in it to protect his skin from ultraviolet rays and painful sunburn. Pink noses should be protected daily as well with a zinc oxide-based sunscreen.

Take a Proactive Stance to Beat Summer Heat

Incorporating these summer grooming tips will assist you in being proactive about the hot weather to come. In addition to providing your horse with a cool place to rest, plenty of fresh water and a fan to circulate the air in the barn, these grooming tips will promote equine health and comfort during the warmest months of the year. A horse that’s comfortable and healthy will expend less energy trying to alleviate discomfort, leaving more energy for your summer rides together.

Ashly Snell works at Dover Saddlery and enjoys eventing with and caring for her two Dutch Warmbloods. She has been an avid equestrian for 20 years.

Salt Blocks are Not a Complete Feed

A balanced, fortified feed is a better option than a trace mineral salt block.

A balanced, fortified feed is a better option than a trace mineral salt block.

As a feed consultant I hear quite often “My horse has plenty of hay and a salt block with selenium. That’s enough to meet all his nutrition needs, right?” My answer is always, resoundingly, “NO.” The truth of the matter is, while salt does have its place in the equine diet, the nutrient needs of a horse are much more complex than what a salt block with trace minerals can provide. So if you are depending on a trace mineral salt block to provide anything to your horse’s diet except for a source of salt, I would encourage you to keep reading.

Typical salt blocks are 95% or more salt and less than 5% mineral, so they do very little to meet the mineral needs of the horse. In addition, horses are usually inefficient at consuming salt in block form. They will lick for a short period of time each day on a salt block, but will not consume the sheer amount of minerals needed to have any effect on their nutrient needs.

A better solution to get your horse all the nutrients he needs is to provide a fortified feed that is fed according to tag directions. This will ensure that your horse’s needs for many things, including energy, protein, vitamins and amino acids in addition to minerals are being met. Then, provide loose white salt, which horses will more freely and easily consume, alongside the feed in a separate container. As always, be sure to provide plenty of fresh, clean water at all times, as consuming salt will also often increase water consumption.

Spring Pasture Time for Horses!

Toby GrazingIntroducing horses to growing pasture is a welcome event each year, yet must be approached with caution. Introducing the horses to pasture too soon in the season or for too long a time period can be bad for both the pasture and the horses.

The following are some guidelines to consider:

  1. Do not turn the horses out on pastures too early. Grass needs time to recover from the stress of winter and should be allowed to re-grow to 6 to 8 inches in height, depending on the species, to allow roots to grow and to store some energy before being grazed.
  2. Horses should be fed hay before going out on pasture the first time. Do not turn them out with empty stomachs!
    1. Initial grazing should be limited to 15 to 20 minutes and gradually increased each day by 15 minutes until the horses are out for about 4 or 5 hours, at which time they can be allowed unrestricted time.
    2. If horses are allowed too much initial grazing time, the risk of digestive disturbance is increased as it takes the microflora in the gut some time to adjust to the difference in forage source.
  3. Do NOT overgraze! Pastures should not be grazed to below 3-4 inches in grass length or you will wind up with a dirt lot fairly quickly. Some weeds are also hardier than most grasses, so if pastures are over grazed, weeds will become more prevalent.
  4. Remember that cool season grasses growing very rapidly can be high in plant sugars (fructans), so caution is in order.
  5. Grazing muzzles might be an option for helping reduce rapid intake.

Proper introduction of horses back on pasture needs to be managed for the health of the horses and the health of the pastures!