Spring Training: Getting Your Horse Ready to Ride

Spring Training: Getting Your Horse Ready to Ride

Photo: Photos.com

The flowers might not have started budding yet, but if you haven't started getting your mount ready for the spring, you're already late.

Steve Jones, associate professor and equine specialist for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service said if you own a horse, you should start getting your animal ready by checking his feet.

"We need hoof care right off the bat," Jones said.

A carefully controlled exercise plan should be next on the agenda. A horse that has been turned out since fall will not be as fit as he was last time he was ridden. How long it will take him to get back in shape will depend largely on what kind of shape he was in when cold weather hit; a horse that was physically fit before taking a two- or three-month break can return to good form much more quickly than one that wasn't.

"The first thing I worry about is injury," Jones said. "His tendons are not in shape, his bones are more brittle. The unique thing about a horse is that when you exercise him, he actually has bone remodeling. The bone softens and then starts repairing itself for that activity level. Tendons do the same thing. So it's important to do a long, slow exercise regimen, just getting those feet and tendons and muscles back in shape."

About 20 minutes of exercise is ideal when starting out, Jones said. He recommended this time be spent in five minutes of warm-up, eight to 10 minutes of slow trotting or cantering, and five minutes of cool-down.

When that phase is well underway, owners of performance horses should start adding workouts specific to the types of activity those animals will be utilized for.

"This is true for trail-riding horses, too," Jones said. "You may have ridden him 14 miles before, but he's been on vacation and he's not up to that yet. You're risking injury if you don't start slowly."

Next, check your tack and equipment. Make sure that nothing is dry-rotted and that everything you'll need is present and in good shape--blankets should be clean; bridles, saddles, and other leather tack should be oiled.

It's a good idea to take stock of your horse's diet this time of year, too.

Jones said it might be necessary to add more calories and protein as the horse transitions from being on a maintenance program to a performance regimen.

Cold weather might hold internal parasites at bay, but as soon as the grass starts to shoot up in the spring they can return with a vengeance. It's a good idea to consult with your veterinarian for the plan that will allow you to stay ahead of the specific parasites affecting your farm.

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