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Spring Horse Care Challenges and Solutions

Spring Into Action with Solutions to Your Horse Care Challenges

By: Lori Underwood

The arrival of spring brings mixed feelings to those who are caring for horses. Whether a one-horse barn, or a large commercial facility, the joy felt by the changing of the seasons is often tempered by the mess left behind from the winter or ushered in by spring weather.

Spring Cleaning Chores to do Around the Barn

Spring cleaning is a must, particularly for barns that have been closed against winter weather. It’s time to open doors and windows, air things out, and do a thorough dusting, scrubbing and disinfecting. Turn horses out for the day and purge your barn of the mess that winter has left behind!

  1. Pull the buckets, feeders, and mats out of the stalls and aisles for a thorough scrubbing and disinfecting, allowing them to dry in the sun.
  2. De-cobweb and dust ceilings, walls, and doors. Don’t forget the light fixtures!
  3. Check for any repairs required and replace damaged hardware.
  4. Scrub floors if cement, allowing them to dry well before replacing mats.
  5. Floors of dirt, clay, or other draining material should be well raked, limed, and allowed the day to dry out before replacing mats. This is the perfect time to add more flooring material, and level low or uneven spots as needed.
  6. Clean up your hay storage area, moving good hay, and giving everything a thorough dusting, de-cobwebbing and sweeping. If using pallets to store your hay, make sure to clean all the old hay out of the pallet slats!
  7. Empty out that tack room and give it a complete cleaning.
  8. Inspect all tack as it is returned, setting aside items which need repair or a good conditioning.
  9. Tackle the feed room with a complete cleaning, paying particular attention to evidence of rodent infestation. Don’t forget to scrub all your scoops and storage containers.
  10. Check the charge on your fire extinguishers!

Spring Horse Care Challenges and Solutions

Your Spring Horse Blanketing Questions Answered

Horse Blankets are a selection, storage and maintenance challenge any time of year, but spring brings it to a whole new level. In many areas horses may be fully shed of their winter coat before the risk of a one more snowstorm is over, and warm, wet days and cold nights can be a dilemma even without a full return of winter weather.

When Should You Take Your Horse's Blanket Off?

Should your horse be turned out naked on a 68* day, free to cover themselves in a thick coating of spring mud, when the overnight temps may well drop into the 30’s? Do you have blankets and turnouts of different weights to accommodate the erratic changes in temperature, coupled with mud, rain, and stage of shedding? Each caretaker of horses will need to make these judgement calls for themselves, based on their own specific circumstances, but there are a couple of things that should always be taken into account.

  • Sweating under a blanket is never healthy, and a damp horse and/or damp inside blanket will cause a chill when temperatures drop.
  • Blankets should not be put on a muddy horse. Mud is abrasive and can cause rubbing and sores, and a muddy hair-coat has no insulating ability. Muddy horses will need a grooming before having their blanket put back on.

Your best solution is to have a variety of blankets and turnouts for each horse, in various weights, to allow for changes as needed during weather transitions.

For horses who have been unblanketed for the winter, relying on a robust winter coat for the protection they need, spring can be a time when they may need a lightweight blanket or turnout in the event that the temperatures drop after that horse has already shed much, or all, of his winter coat. The ability of a horse to stay warm with his own coat during the winter is no guarantee that they can weather erratic spring weather!

When and Where to Wash Your Winter Horse Blankets?

Once there is a high degree of confidence that the winter clothing will not be needed, wash those blankets, and store them away for next year. If you are lucky enough to have a dedicated barn washing machine and few horses, this can be a relatively easy task. If not, the next challenge is how to get them clean and ready for next season.

Many horsey areas have blanket washing and repair businesses. If you have access to such services, they can be well worth the cost.

In the past, horse people skulked around laundromats waiting for a quiet moment to sneak in with smelly, muddy, hair covered blankets. Most laundromat owners have gotten wise to the game, and now post signs forbidding the laundering of animal clothing. If you do decide to risk it, cover all your buckles with vet wrap to avoid damage to the machines, and clean those machines out well when you’re done. Don’t leave evidence behind, or you will surely find a sign, or an angry owner, the next time you head in!

Using a household machine is an option, but family members can be even touchier than laundromat owners, so an equal amount of stealth may be required, along with the aforementioned vet wrapped buckles and machine cleaning.

A final solution can be as simple as a pressure washer and a sturdy fence. Do-it-yourself car washes can be a great option along those same lines. A set of sawhorses, or even the side of a pickup truck (cover those buckles!), make a good surface on which to work. Rinse them well and dry them in the sun!

Whatever method you use to get them clean, make sure they are checked for needed repairs, and are thoroughly dry before storing them away for next winter. Read this blog to learn how to clean your horse blankets.

What to Note About Horse Shedding in The Spring

Shedding is prompted by lengthening daylight hours, and it is certainly a messy time of year. There really is no way to hurry things along, other than regular, vigorous grooming. There are many shedding tools on the market, of varying intensity, and most of them work quite well. Just monitor your horse’s reaction and select the tool that is most comfortable for each horse. Shedding is an exercise best done outside! You can read more about shedding in our blog, How to Shed Out Your Horse’s Winter Coat.

Why Won't Your Horse Shed His Winter Coat?

Failure to shed the winter coat, or irregular shedding, with long “cat” hairs remaining, can be an early sign of Cushing’s disease, or PPID (Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction) so take note of any abnormalities and discuss them with your veterinarian.

Check That Your Saddle Fits Your Horse

Spring is the perfect time to have your saddle fitter out. Horses weight, shape, and muscle tone can change dramatically over the winter, and the saddle that fit perfectly last fall may now be unbalanced, unstable, pinching, or have a mixture of issues. It is no fun to start the riding season with a horse whose back is sore, so a regular review of saddle fit when riding schedules resume or intensify is imperative!

Managing Mud in Your Horse's Pasture

Mud is one of the biggest spring challenges for equine managers. In a perfect world we would all have “sacrifice” paddocks for mud season (leaving the “good” turnouts for use when things dry up), or “all-weather” turnouts, designed to be mud free.

If you don’t have these options, the most important area to pay attention to is the area around the gates. Many a boot has been sucked off a foot while navigating a soupy gate area with a horse reluctant to get his feet wet! The use of mud mats (a remarkable product that really does improve the situation tremendously), along with generous amounts of gravel and limestone can make muddy areas much more user friendly. When dealing with serious mud issues, professional help to improve drainage for the entire area may be required.

It is crucial to keep feet picked out and legs as clean as possible during mud season. Thrush and scratches are common in horses kept in muddy conditions without the opportunity to be clean and dry for periods of time, so don’t neglect this grooming chore!

What Does Spring Grass do to Horses?

The re-introduction of grass to a horse’s diet must be navigated carefully, particularly for ponies and horses prone to metabolic disorders. Laminitis and founder can both result from too much grass, or grass introduced too quickly. Grazing muzzles are a great way to limit the amount of grass taken in, while allowing full turn-out time. Limiting turnout time in the early days of spring, and building exposure gradually, is also an option. Either way, check the feet for heat and elevated digital pulse during the transition time.

Finally, if you want the grass in your turnouts to last all season, allow it to grow to between 4” and 6” before grazing, and keep the horses off it during the worst of the muddy times. This is when a “sacrifice” turn-out area can come in most handy!

Patience, attention to detail, and a little bit of extra effort are all that is required to weather the challenges that spring weather brings. Soon, those days of shedding, mud, and filthy blankets will be over, and you will be on to dealing with the next seasons challenges. Stay tuned for tips about dealing with summer management issues!