Hello, Spring and Summer!
Aaaahhhh… the wonderous warmth of the sun. It shakes away any memories of the winter, and suddenly Everything Seems Possible! Even hiking out through that muddy pasture to bring in the horses, shedding out that dreaded winter coat, and preparing the winter blankets for the cleaners, is light work when riding on a beautiful spring day or taking your first lessons out of doors and away from the indoor.
And how to address that muddy, shedding horse who hasn’t done a lick of work since the last time it was warm? Well, equip yourself with curry combs and shedding blades and start currying out that loose hair. It will seem an endless task over several weeks, but bit by bit (usually starting with the shoulder) you will see a silky, soft coat emerge that is at its most stunning than at any other time of the year. Enlist Mother Nature and curry your horse out of doors, to let the breeze blow away the loose hair and your horse enjoy the spring grass. Any sort of curry comb will work, but this is a handy time to get yourself a different style or one that seems appealing and try it out on your horse’s coat and muscles to see if he has a positive response. Currying is one of the best ways to stimulate blood and lymph circulation and it provides light massage benefits every time. Pick up a few and rotate them, and see what you get. Another helpful item? Think about getting a new hoofpick. Packed dirt is tough to dig out, but a new, sharp hoofpick makes all the difference.
As you tack up, remember that a horse that has been out of work for a couple of months should be walked under saddle for about two weeks before moving into any harder exercise. Walk under saddle for those two weeks, starting with 15 minutes, and then incrementally increasing the work so that the horse is walking comfortably for one hour. Then, in week three, add in three-minute trot sets, and some easy cantering at the end of that week. By the end of one month, your horse should have a solid baseline of fitness to start up your jump training or to take a moderate first lesson with your trainer. Assess his body condition and the state of his shoes and teeth before ramping up your riding program. A quick look-see through any horse care section might spark a creative approach to any of your horse’s niggly little care issues.
Your horse may do well to wear protective boots during that time, since initially his muscles will be not as fit or coordinated, so he may ‘interfere’ – striking one leg with another leg – until he becomes more so. Actually, wearing protective boots are almost never a bad idea, as even a fit horse will occasionally ding himself; a boot can stand guard whenever you and your horse are learning a new movement or jumping a more demanding course of jumps. So:
-Consider splint boots for this conditioning work – ones styled with extra cushioning running down the insides of the boot – in leather or in practical neoprene. Velcro closings are the simplest and let you make the most exact fit around the leg, but many riders prefer the elegance of the buckle closings. These front boots always run the full length of the cannon, and should cup around the inside of the fetlock joint.
-Do the same for the hind legs if your horse is prone to interfering – if you see mud or dirt smears on the fetlock or higher up, consider booting up behind. For the hinds, they can be short pastern boots or tall ones like front boots.
-As well, bell boots to protect the back of the front pasterns, the bulbs of the frog heels, and the shoes are very handy. Pull-ons, though requiring a bit of a wrestling match (turn them inside out and pull over the toe, with the horse’s knee braced into your hip, then flip over to finish fitting. Dip in water just prior to pulling on if you need extra slip.), stay on most securely; velcro-closed bell boots are much easier but consequently more easily stepped out of by the horse. Find what you can tolerate!
-Polo wraps are also used frequently, and are practically required gear for any dressage horse, but they do not offer as much cushioning from a blow from the opposing hoof, and do not reliably stay put on the lower leg should they get wet or muddy. There is both an art and a science to putting on polos, so find someone who will guide you in this. And there are plenty of people who can, as many horsepeople use nothing but polos.
All of this booting can be used in turnout for your horse as well (heeding a caution about polos in wet conditions).
There was much enthusiasm about the beauty of Spring in the beginning of the article, but a word of caution about the fickleness of the season: Besides dressing to stay warm out of doors, consider using a quarter sheet on your horse in your early fitness rides, not only as a barrier against the cold, but for the fact that working just at the walk will not really get the muscles that warmed and protected against chilly air. A quarter sheet, fitted under both flaps of the saddle, around the cantle and then draped over the haunches, and secured under the tail with a tail cord, helps keep away the chilling effects of those winds that are more about the last gasps of winter than the balmy breezes of upcoming summer. Just take a periodic peek at the sheet once you’re under way to be sure it’s remaining in place.
The rider has a spectrum of clothing to choose from, from polar fleeces, to 3-in-1 short jackets, to riding parkas (with snaps at the hip to allow fit around the legs and seat), to rain pants, or half chaps. Polar fleece alone is not the best choice next to a shedding horse, so purchase a nylon shell to cover up when grooming, but it’s an unbeatable base layering for the seasons. And take an objective look at your saddle pads, and ones that are too worn for under-saddle use, and in the barn tradition, convert them to cushions for the stable-office chairs or into dog and cat beds. Make sure your show pad is as bright and new looking as it should be.
And maybe it is time to replace those riding gloves and take advantage of the wonderful materials that make for great feel and grip. You might just need them when, out on your conditioning ride, your horse suddenly succumbs to spring fever and hops and jumps around, giddy with good feeling – just like the rest of us!
Please see the Spring 2007Newsletter – Vaccination Fever! – to help you review your plans for equestrian vaccinations.
Note: All prices in US Dollars