Spring Time Safety and Prep Checklist for the Horse Enthusiast

Spring Horse Preparations

Every spring after cold, dark winter folks starts getting excited at the prospect of the upcoming riding season. For most people in the inland northwest, there is a major decrease in the amount of ride/horse time during the winter months. Below are some ideas to help safely get you back in the saddle!

Equine Health Assessment: I suggest an evaluation with a vet or trained professional to help you recognize any health issues your horse might have and create a plan on how to address them. Reevaluate your feed program and make any needed adjustments due to changes in weather, increase in physical work, etc. Keeping a calendar that tracks veterinary work, chiropractic work, farrier care, vaccinations/worming schedule, changes in feed, work/training program, etc. can be a futuristic tool and a historical reference in the case of any future health issues.

Tack Assessment: Horses vary in how they handle the transition from a tough winter to spring and often tack that fit the previous fall, no longer fits your horse in the spring. More than 75% of all the horses I encounter have ill-fitting tack. Not only can it cause debilitating physical issues, but it can cause “bad attitudes” towards being caught/tacked/mounted/ridden from the anticipation of potential pain when ridden. Evaluate why you are using the gear you are if it is appropriate, and check all stitching, leather, etc. to make sure it is in safe, usable condition. It is also a good time to pull out the saddle soap and glycerin and give an in-depth cleaning to all of your gear.

Mental/Emotional Equine Assessment: Every spring I start receiving daily emails from horse owners wondering what they should be doing with their horses after a long winter off. Often the “horse” that was turned out in the fall seems nothing like the one brought in during the springtime. It might be a good idea to ask for a professional’s opinion to assess the horse’s availability to be worked with. Many folks get hurt by “assuming” or being hopeful when resuming work with their horse in the springtime.

Mental/Emotional Human Assessment: I find a lot of folks are often “lost” in what they want to do with their horse, because of a lack of clarity in their own equine-related goals. Take some time and write a list of short and long-term goals for yourself (all of which can evolve throughout the riding season.) Then consider the horse you currently have and ask yourself if those goals are appropriate for your current horse; if so, how will you implement working towards them? If they aren’t appropriate for your horse, assess if the goals and tasks are more important to you versus the partnership with your current horse and his abilities. If the goals might over-face your horse, but you want to continue working with the same horse, come up with attainable, alternative options for you and your horse’s current abilities.

Equine’s Physical Condition Assessment: Horses can come off winter with a lot of muscle loss and a bit of a hay belly. Come up with a reasonable conditioning plan (appropriate for your horse’s age, and physical/abilities) to slowly help your equine partner get back into shape. As the horse starts to build muscle, remember to reevaluate saddle fit, as it can change greatly.

Human’s Physical Condition Assessment: Folks focus on the condition of their horse, without giving much regard to their own fitness. Whether you’re a pleasure or competitive rider, the better your cardio condition, flexibility, and physical stamina, the better rider/partner you’ll be for your horse. Riders often don’t realize a major contributor to the misuse of aids in the saddle is often due to them compensating, gripping, hanging, “holding on”, as a result of muscle exhaustion, inadvertently also miscuing the horse. The better shape you are as a rider, the better partner you will be to your horse.

Human’s Riding Experience Assessment: If your current riding abilities/experience leaves you feeling unsure about getting back in the saddle, consult with a professional and take lessons or enroll in a training program. Whether you’re a novice horse person or have ridden for 30 years, there is always more to learn, refine and finesse. Sometimes people and horses get “stuck” in patterns and it takes an outside perspective to help break that cycle. Please do your research and remember that just because someone says they are a horse trainer, does not mean they will be a good fit for you and your horse. Be sure to audit lessons/training sessions and get references from other current students before signing up to work with a new trainer.

Trailer Safety Assessment: If you’re planning on hauling your horse anywhere, be sure to have a thorough inspection of both your tow vehicle and the horse trailer. Check electrical/wiring, tires (including the spare tire), brakes, floorboards, rust, possible wasp nests, etc. always suggest keeping an emergency equine vet kit, human first aid kit, unexpired fire extinguisher, 5-gallon water jug and bucket, electrolytes, spare halter, and lead rope, jack/tire iron, and road flares in the trailer.

Taking the initial time to assess each of the above topics will help decrease the “guesswork” with your horse, increase your and your horse’s safety and well-being, and will lead to the start of a great riding season.

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