Spring is a great time for getting our horses and ourselves into a regular routine of outdoor activity! Horses are living, breathing athletes. We have to prepare their bodies for work and need to build them up to the desired level of performance.
General Health & Fitness
Horse owners are encouraged to begin with a spring veterinary examination. Your equine practitioner will perform a physical examination, evaluating vital signs and overall health of the horse. They will be able to determine if the lungs and heart are up to the challenge of exercise. Just like human athletes, horses need to be conditioned over time building up to a desired level of performance. This doesn’t happen overnight. Diligence in warming up prior to a workout and cooling down after it, will minimize the risk of injury as well as increase the potential performance quality. A strong nutritional plan is very important. Fresh, clean water and quality forage should be the foundation of every horse's diet. Maintaining a healthy body condition score as exercise increases will likely mean increasing the quantity and or quality of feeds in the overall diet.
The benefit of the spring veterinary exam is that you can discuss the level of risk of disease in your area and take preventative measures based upon your veterinarian’s recommendations. Core vaccinations include tetanus, rabies, West Nile and Encephalomyelitis. Risk based vaccinations are determined by geographical location, the intended use of your horse and how likely they are to be mingling with other horses. In order to provide the greatest protection remember to vaccinate for mosquito-borne diseases, such as West Nile, 4-6 weeks prior to mosquito season. For more information please refer to the iGrow article Vaccination of Horses.
This is also a good time to get your annual Coggins test, which will be needed for travel and participation in shows or other events.
We recommend performing fecal egg counts for your horse(s). This will help you identify the presence of parasites and will help determine which horses have a greater parasitic burden. These tests can be performed and analyzed at your local veterinary clinic or diagnostic center. You should work with your veterinarian then to determine the best parasite treatment for your horse.
Routine hoof care is essential and should occur every 6-8 weeks depending on your horse’s needs. During your next regularly scheduled farrier appointment talk with your farrier about your plans for riding during the spring and summer. They will be able to help you determine the best course of care for your horse including whether or not shoes are needed.
Transitioning to Pastures
It is tempting to allow your horses to enjoy the first green grass, but doing so in haste can be unhealthy for both the horse and the pasture. Start planning for pasture health now. Work with your Extension weed specialist to plan a weed management program as well as a pasture rotation plan. Also, consider having your soil tested to identify what type of fertilizer is needed. Allow the forage stand to reach 6- 8 inches. This means that the forage is likely robust enough to tolerate grazing. Check fences and repair as necessary. Also check for any foreign objects in the pastures, which may harm your horse and remove these items. Allow your horses to graze for around 15 minutes on the first day of grazing, and add 15 minutes each day until you’ve reached about 5 hours, before turning them out continuously.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need to feed grain to horses on pasture?
This depends on the nutrient levels present in your pasture. At the very minimum you should offer fresh water and a salt block. You can have your pasture analyzed for nutrients, which will be the most accurate way to determine additional requirements. Additionally, monitor the body condition score of your horse as well as the workload. Nutrient requirements increase as more work is introduced into their life. Ultimately, each horse should be evaluated individually. Quality pasture, water, minerals and salt will be all some horses need, while others will need added forage and/or grain.
What minerals are best for my horse while on pasture?
A simple rule of thumb is that horses on pasture need access to salt. Additional mineral supplements may be made available to your horses. It is imperative that these mineral supplements are designed for use in horses. Ultimately, the overall diet should be evaluated by a nutritionist to ensure that all nutritional requirements are being satisfied.
How do I know if my water source is safe for my horse?
If water is murky or discolored that is a good indicator that the water source is not suitable for consumption. However, seemingly clear water sources may contain harmful elements that can’t be seen by the naked eye. Local agricultural laboratories conduct livestock suitability tests where bacteria, including fecal coliform bacteria, pH and total dissolved solids are evaluated.
How should you prepare your spring / summer pastures?
Evaluate your pastures for quality. Did they produce enough forage last year? Did they produce the type of forage you want? What was the load of weeds? If you’re interested in the do’s and don’ts of managing horse pastures check out the iGrow publication titled Equine Pasture Maintenance and Renovation for SD. Pastures will likely need to be treated in the fall and spring in order to manage the growth of weeds. Mowing can be a great management tool as well. Mowing will clip many weeds below their growing point while also establishing a more even grazing field for horses. It is wise to remove horses from the pasture for a day or two after mowing. Pull horses off of pastures when it is wet or frozen and when plants are dormant to avoid causing damage to the pastures.