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Horse Owners - Are you Ready for Spring?

Posted: March 10, 2017

Tips for spring horse keeping.
Helene McKernan, Retired PSU Extension Educator

Helene McKernan, Retired PSU Extension Educator

Every Spring I go through a ritual to prepare my pastures, horses and equipment for the prospect of riding and enjoying my horses during warmer weather. The first job to tackle is checking the perimeter fence-line of the pastures. Every fall my horses are confined to a smaller paddock or what horsemen call, a sacrifice area, and are kept off of my three electrified fenced pastures.

This keeps my pastures from being destroyed by horses chopping up the sod while trying to find that last tasty green morsel that might survive the non-growing season. Since my pastures are not being utilized to confine horses I un-hook the electric fence to avoid upkeep and maintenance of the pasture fencing. I have discovered that during hunting season the deer are constantly running through and breaking the fence wire and winter storms bring down trees and branches that cause the fence to not work properly. Therefore, in the Spring, before I can re-hook up the electricity to the fencing I will need to walk the line and check the fence posts for stability, remove any branches or fallen trees and repair any breaks in the wire and then reconnect the electricity. About one week later I repeat the process for I have found that deer and other wildlife have to re-learn about sharing the pastures with my horses and often those critters need a week or so to figure it out that…the fence will sting if they try to go through it.

My horses are not returned to grazing in my pastures until May 1. This enables the pasture grasses a chance to get a firm growth start and also a time for horses to acclimate to a diet of rich grass feed. All winter long in the sacrifice area the horses have been eating dried forage, hay and grain supplements. The horse’s digestive system needs to be slowly introduced to this prospective rich grass feed. During the month of April I limit the time the horses have eating grass until they can endure long periods of grazing time. I begin by allowing the horses limited grazing time of ten or fifteen minutes for a few days while I control them with a halter and lead. The controlled grazing is increased by five minute increments for the next two weeks. By the second week of April, I can turn the horses out for free grazing for about one hour at a time. Each day I increase that time by increments of ten minutes. At the beginning of May, I will have the horses acclimated to being able to tolerate at least four or five hour periods of grazing time. Then during the months of summer they can enjoy being in the pastures without me worrying about creating digestive problems.

Spring is also the time for me to have the annual veterinary visit for inoculations and examination. This includes the negative Coggins testing that is often required for participation in horse show and other horse events. I vaccinate my horses for Tetanus, Equine Encephalomyelitis (Eastern, Western & Venezuelan), Rhinopneumonitis, Influenza, West Nile and Rabies. There are other recommended inoculations available, such as Potomac Horse Fever and Strangles and every horse owner needs to consult with their veterinarian and decide what inoculations are best and needed for their horse.

With warmer days during Spring and Summer it is more likely that a daily search of the horse will result in finding ticks attached and feeding on the host horse. Ticks are prevalent in Central Pennsylvania and with the past mild winter they will be more abundant. Ticks can be found year round, but often are more common in warmer weather. Checking and/or brushing the coat of the horse will assist in quicker shedding and will assist in finding other types of parasitic or skin conditions.

Farrier visits should be year round every six to eight weeks. Often horses that are heavily ridden are shod. When they are not written as much in the winter, owners tend to remove the shoes and let the horses go barefoot. Often the growth and health of the horse’s hoofs are semi-neglected during the winter months and with the prospect of heavier riding shoes will need to be placed back on the horse. Schedule a visit from your farrier to enable him ample time to fit your horse’s needs into his schedule. Remember that everyone else will also want to retain the farrier for the same purpose!

My final jobs include Spring barn cleaning and check of equipment. Sweep out hay chafe that has collected during the winter; remove cobwebs, dead insects, dirt and dust. Check barn walls for repairs. Spring is a good time to clean and condition the saddle and bridles checking for weak leather, buckles and snaps and cleaning saddle pads, horse blankets and any other equipment that could use a good scrubbing.& If you have questions concerning information included in this article or on other horse related issues contact your local Penn State University Extension Office.

Written by Helene McKernan, Retired PSU Extension Educator