Spring Forward in the Equine Industry
Is it just me or has this been an especially long winter this year? Anyway enough of all that, Spring is about to be sprung and we couldn’t be happier at the prospect of tiptoeing through the tulips in 2018!
In amongst all the horsey loveliness of Spring, a real highlight for me is the arrival of our beloved Swallows with their “let’s get the party started” vibe. The uplift they provide as they arrive tired but jubilant never fails to lift my spirits.
Guest Blogger Kelly Wallace Horne has seen many a horse through many a Winter:Spring season transition both as a horse owner and professional Show Jumping groom. Following are just some of the seasonal considerations those of us who work with horses should make.
See you on the other side!
Spring is in the air!
by Kelly Wallace Horne
Spring is upon us (as hard as it is to believe with the recent cold weather!) and, as we alter the clocks this weekend and gain an hour’s daylight in the evening, we turn our attention towards the forthcoming summer season. However, let’s appreciate the ups and downs of the spring season and have a giggle at the adversities the spring season brings with it for hard working professional equestrians and our fellow horse lovers.
Riding in the evening after work
One of the first things we notice and enjoy in the Spring is the longer daylight hours. Whether you work with horses and your evenings are a time for doing non-horsey things, or you do your own horses after work, most evenings at this time of year you hear exclamations of “have you seen the time? It’s still light!”
Beware of the fluctuating temperatures
Certain times of the year are a nightmare for knowing how to dress yourself, let alone your horse. It’s easy (if annoying) for us to be slipping jackets and jumpers on, off, on, off… but worrying about whether the horses are chilly or overheating is something else altogether, especially when we’ve rugged them up and left them in the field for the day. A groom staggering back across the fields under the weight of 2-3 or more 6’6″+ winter turnout rugs is not an uncommon sight at this time of year!
Where things can go awry is when grooms rug according to the season and not by the current temperature and weather conditions. For example, -3C is just as cold in any month of the year, so if you rug your horse in a duvet at -3C in December, rug your horse in a duvet at -3C in April!
Don’t be fooled by the shining sun – the wind chill factor can make standing in a field all day very unpleasant! It can, however, raise the heat within stables and barns quite quickly, despite the outside windchill. In our Basic Guide to Rugging Horses, fellow blogger Emily Taylor describes her pet-hate of grooms who would turn up on the yard wrapped up with just their eyes showing, start mucking out, get hot, then go round stripping rugs off all the horses as though the horses had been mucking out and got hot too! It’s complicated and hard work but it’s a means to an end – summer is on its way!
Oh, such happy memories of riding the event horses out on a 1.5 hour ride in the rolling hills, setting off in gorgeous, warm spring sun in our t-shirts and strappy vest tops – only to be caught in a ferocious thunderstorm, complete with hailstones 30 minutes in! After much excitement playing buckeroo on the spirited youngsters, or on older horses, balancing on the edge of a precipice atop a headless, neckless sideways moving beast shielding its eyes and ears between its front legs, we’d all ride the next hour looking like participants in a wet t-shirt competition. Much like the temperature at this time of year, quick-change routines are a required skill in order to stay dry throughout the day.
An early taste of summer
After the long winter season, the warmth of the spring sun can feel rejuvenating and it’s tempting to soak up the rays believing we a topping up our Vitamin D. However, this early in the year the sun’s rays are quite capable of burning our skin, so it’s strongly advisable to use a factor 30 or factor 50 sunscreen, even if the sun isn’t that hot. Whilst we associate the sun’s UV rays with hot summer days, we are actually absorbing UV rays even on milder, partly cloudy days. Working as a groom means long hours outside in the sun so it’s important for grooms to be mindful of this, especially come the spring. You really don’t want to end up with skin cancer later in life, and at the very least you don’t want to end up with bizarre tan lines later in the summer.
The Spring Moult!
It’s always a relief to exchange a woolly mammoth for a sleek pony, but getting from one to the other isn’t always great. We seem to do it via a process of transferring the horse’s winter coat onto ourselves before casting it off for the birds to make nests with. Walking about looking like a yeti seems to be a compulsory initiation ceremony for gaining entry to summer.
There can’t be many yards in the UK that don’t have this charming summer lodger in the beams and rafters of their barns and stables. OK, they tend to bomb the place with droppings (and NOTHING is sacred), but we can forgive them that when we hear their cheery twittering as they swoop across the skies above us. They certainly are a welcome sight and sound of the summer.
The April Showers and warmer temperatures bring with them the risk of laminitis, especially in ponies. The early flush of spring grass is very sweet and tasty to horses and is packed full of sugars. This means that even though the paddocks may look sparse of grass, what little growth there is can pose a high risk to horses and ponies prone to laminitis.
The sugar content in this very early growth is so high that it can trigger a bout of mild to moderate laminitis in horses who have never suffered before, and some owners/grooms may not even realise this is the cause of a mild unsoundness at this time of year.
Having a record of each horse’s vital signs is invaluable at times like this, as you will detect changes in a horse’s body very early on, possibly before a health issue shows visible symptoms, and you can take appropriate action soonest. Keep a close eye on the horses and be mindful that this seemingly harmless first flush of grass is actually quite potent.
Unfortunately, with the warmth and the sun come the flies! It’s a good idea to get into the habit of applying fly repellent as soon as you spot the blighters out and about.
One of the downsides of the summer is the persistent growth of ragwort in the paddocks. Traipsing around the paddocks armed with a Ragfork and poo bucket, envisaging ragwort rosettes as chocolate bars you can eat later, soon gets old so hitting the scene early can make a real difference later on. When you’re poo-picking the paddocks start keeping your eyes peeled for early sprouts of ragwort now and get rid of them as you go (but not onto the muckheap, into the incinerator), so you should find you don’t have tons of it to clear later in the year.
Anyone who has worked with animals knows that “spring fever” really is a thing. Suddenly, the four-footers around us develop a spring in their step (pun intended), which often escalates to a full-blown bolt around the grounds that would do the Grand National proud. The mischevious horses that are turned out together start sparring and shadowboxing, and those that aren’t do exactly the same, just over the fence. Lunging is frequently an accurate imitation of the wall of death, and even the sluggish of horses will demonstrate their best gazelle impression in the school or on a hack.
Whilst many disciplines compete all year through, it is undoubtedly much nicer going off to shows in the summer (when it isn’t hammering with rain). Competition Grooms are usually at their busiest and long, balmy days are expected (don’t forget your sunscreen), as well as lots of yummy junk food. Now is the time to start planning ahead, stock-checking the washroom and plaiting kits, getting the lorry ready and topping up the lorry’s first aid kit.
If you are planning to compete your own horse start planning your dates now, and ensure you can take the time off work before booking any entries. A competition year planner is useful for planning a year’s worth of trips out – look out for them being given away with equine magazines about now. The Horse and Hound Magazine often includes one in one of their spring issues.
Get the horsebox or trailer serviced
Don’t leave it to luck, get your horsebox or trailer booked in now for a service for peace of mind when heading off to shows and for training. You can take your horsebox or trailer to a dealership, local garage or specialist lorry and trailer maintenance company for the once over to ensure everything is safe after the long winter. Don’t hang about as these are likely to get booked up fairly quickly.
Get your clippers serviced
Autumn and winter clipping might be a task you’re keen to forget for a few months but, believe me, it will be upon us again before we know it! It’s a good idea to get organised and get blades sharpened and clippers serviced early on in the year, THEN you can forget about it for a few months and pick up your ship-shaped set of clippers come the autumn.
Foals! Foals! Foals!
For those of us working in the stud industry, or simply expecting the arrival of a four-legged bundle of fun at our home or livery yard, the wait is over as we head into the foaling season. Across the country, there will be lots of anxious waiting, long nights on foal watch and unexpected surprises as mares conveniently foal the moment you turn your back on them.
Spring is undoubtedly a wonderful time of year and always seems to be with us for such a short while. We really must take the time to appreciate the vibrancy of the blooming colours and the increasing vitality of the animals around us (without falling off them) and make the most of spring whilst it lasts. BUT Caroline always encourages grooms to consider their job longevity when they find themselves looking to avoid next winter by signing up to a different winter in a new yard. Why not take this time to sit in the spring sun with your boss or colleagues and look at what was difficult on the yard (in practical terms) that could be addressed long before the next winter kicks in? There are many useful ideas to draw on from all sorts of sources. Here a couple to get you started:
Have a good one!