Horsekeeping tips for a messy spring

0314webhorsephotoBy Robyn Moore

This past winter, Albertans saw record amounts of snow. In some places, snow drifts were as high as fence lines. With all that snow, spring promises to be messy when the ground starts thawing and the snow starts melting.

Whether you keep your horses at home or board them at a stable, as the owner, you should monitor your horse, as well as the pasture and/or paddocks where he lives.

Spring is a great time to check pastures and paddocks. Take a walk around the fence line and check for fences that may have become damaged with high winds or heavy snowfalls that occurred in winter. Fence posts can also shift when the ground is wet and muddy.

“Because there has been large amounts of snow in many areas of the province, it will take longer than normal for the snow to leave the pastures, which will mean that being able to start grazing horses will be also be delayed,” explains Les Burwash, manager of horse programs with Alberta Agriculture.

“It is also expected that many pastures and paddocks will be wetter than normal, which will require owners to keep horses off the areas so as not to pack the ground and punch holes in the sod. This will make the pastures and paddocks less productive over the remainder of the spring and summer.”

To get the most out of your grazing pastures in the upcoming season, wait until the ground has dried out before turning horses onto the land. “A basic rule for grazing is to not turn horses out until the grass is four to six inches high. Then when it is grazed down to about two to three inches move the horses to another grazing area,” says Burwash.

“Rotational grazing will afford the horse owner the opportunity to get the most number of grazing days out of their pasture.” And, if you only have a very small grazing area then it’s best to have a sacrifice area to keep the horses till the grass grows tall enough to start grazing, adds Burwash.

In addition to monitoring pastures, horse owners should take a close look at their horses. With the winter hair that horses grow, they can appear fatter than they actually are. Running your hands down their back and ribs through all of the hair helps to determine their body condition score.

Burwash says, “With all the snow this winter some horses may come out of the winter in lower body condition score than expected. This will require the horse owner to look at possibly feeding extra hay as well as feeding longer than normal.”

Despite the challenges of spring, it is a great time to return to working your horses, dust off the saddle and get riding again.

“This winter has been one of the coldest we have seen for some time,” Burwash says. “Horses may have a little bit heavier hair coat than the owner has been used to seeing. When it warms up and owners are starting to use their horses they should be aware that their horse may overheat with strenuous exercise until they have shed their winter coat.”

Use a shedding blade to help the horse shed out faster and return them to work gradually. Horses are athletes and need time to return to an athletic condition suitable for a long ride.

There is nothing better than spending warm days riding a horse. Since summer follows spring, there should be many more warm days to enjoy once all the spring chores are tackled.

Horsekeeping tips for spring:

• Consider putting wood chips or crushed gravel down in areas that horses frequent, such as shelters or watering areas. This will prevent some of the mess that horses will create while using the areas.
• Make sure that gutters direct runoff water away from horse housing areas.
• Divide up your pasture into areas that horses can be rotated through to prevent over-grazing and mud.
• Monitor your horse for skin dermatophilosis such as mud fever or grease heel. Keep antiseptic soap on hand.
• Keep a pair of rubber boots that are just for horse activities. Keep them at your barn so that mud won’t get tracked into your house.