Star Milling

Spring Management Tips For Horses

Whether you had an easy winter living on the west coast or a harsh winter on the east coast, there will be a spring “to do” list for your horses. Below is a list of a few management tips to consider.

General

  • After the first few days of reasonable weather, it’s time to clean the indoor water and feed buckets, and the outside water troughs.
  • Check overfeeding racks. If using wood feeding racks, be sure the nails and screws are not protruding. If using metal hay racks, check all fittings to be sure they are tight.
  • Be sure paddock and pasture gates are properly secured and aligned; repair or replace broken or damaged rails.
  • Clean all equipment, saddles, saddle blankets, brushes, etc.

Health

  • Review health records. Vaccinations, deworming and dental assessment are routine for health maintenance. Visit with a veterinarian if you are unsure of what is needed.
    • Check teeth for uneven wear and sharp edges as well as for gum inflammation or soreness.
    • Dental issues will contribute to chewing difficulties, weight loss, and even colic. They may cause bit challenges as well.
  • Check their feet.
    • Hopefully during the down time of winter their shoes were left off to allow the hooves an opportunity to strengthen without restrictions.
    • Hooves should be trimmed every eight weeks.
    • Despite tradition, most horses do not need shoes. Some hoof problems are directly related to shoeing. Consult with a veterinarian and farrier who can objectively discuss options.
  • Evaluate body condition score (BCS).
    • Determine if the horse needs to gain or lose weight. BCS is not a tool to evaluate performance fitness but can be used as a guideline for estimating muscle to fat relationship. Aim for a BCS 5 (example) to BCS 6 (example) depending on how the horse will be used.
    • Body Condition Score evaluation methods are available in Dr. Bray’s Corner as fact sheets or video.

Diet

  • Adjust feeding amounts relative to BCS and activity level. That is, based on if the horse is working, pregnant, breeding stock, growing, etc.
    • If you do not weigh your horse’s feed… start! Flakes, scoops, coffee cans are only useful once the weight of each has been determined. Guessing will cost $$!
  • If feeding hay, baled hay is the choice.
    • Long stem forage increases chewing time, slows down feed consumption, increases water consumption, and collectively these outcomes will improve the horse’s sense of satiety.
    • 15 lbs of baled hay is not equivalent to 15 lbs of hay pellets. Horses will most likely consume all the hay pellets but with long stem hay there is usually some hay loss.
    • Reduce or stop feeding alfalfa hay. Alfalfa forage is higher in calories than grass forages, provides less fiber than grass hays, is consumed quicker, thus horse owners feed more so their horse has something to eat. See Dr. Bray’s Corner fact sheet, “Feeding Guidelines for Horses” for specific guidelines.
  • Feed balance formulas that are formulated to complement the forage portion of your horse’s diet relative to what they do.
    • For most horses, high starch containing grains are not needed. Do not feed or top dress balanced formulas with grains.
    • High starch grains can precipitate gut conditions that can cause colic. If more energy is needed, either increase the amount of feed or add a fat source, such as oil or a balanced rice bran formula such as Integrity Rice Bran.
  • Be sure to monitor BCS once the feeding program is determined. BCS changes will be noticeably within 2 - 2½ weeks to the trained eye.

Workload

  • Most horses have had time off during the winter. Allow adequate time to for acclimation and adjustment to the new routine.
    • Initial workloads should be walking, extended walks and uncollected jogs/trots.
    • Do not cinch horses to last year’s “cinch-hole mark”. First cinch should be secured but allow the horse an opportunity to relax with hand walking before securing the cinch. Sort of like those of us who are inactive during the winter and learn that our spring belts do not fit in the same hole as last year!
  • Conditioning involves muscles, tendons and ligaments to adjust. Taking your time and being attentive will circumvent possible lameness or injuries.

Winter Coat

  • As the winter coat begins to loosen look over the entire body for any scraps, cuts or even ring worm that could be irritated by a curry comb or brushing. Shedding depends on the length of daylight hours—as daylight lengthens, shedding increases.
  • Eventually your horse will naturally lose the longer winter coat. However, natural shedding can be a long process. Adding ¼ of cup of any vegetable oil per day will help hasten the process.

Pasture Horses - Caution

  • If you pasture horses, be cognitive of the spring growth and transition horses slowly to pasture. Types, growth, and quality of pastures are variables that will influence the transition period. Introduction can be from one to three hours per day with increases of 15 - 30 minutes every other day.
    • Early spring pastures are higher in water and lower in fiber when compared to late spring and early summer pasture. During the early spring, supplement horses with hay to ensure adequate fiber intake and to slow down pasture consumption during grazing times.
    • Nonstructural carbohydrates in pastures are highest in April, lower in May, and lowest in August through October.
    • Fructan content, a sugar molecule, in pasture grasses is a concern. The time of day is also important to consider when grazing horses during early spring. Fructans levels are at the highest on sunny afternoons and early evenings. The best turnout time for lower fructans levels is either morning or warm nights when temperatures are above 40°F.

The most important thing is to enjoy your horse and this beautiful time of year!