As I write this, the stronger February sun is making riding here in Virginia a pleasant experience, instead of something we know we “should” be doing to keep our horses (and ourselves) fit. We don’t need to don as many layers, deal with frozen or icy footing, and the horse hair which has been shed all over our clothes means we can actually begin to believe that Spring might be just around the corner (spoiler – it’s probably not).
But as we look forward to Spring with its longer hours of daylight, warmer temperatures, and plenty of time for riding – there are some steps you can take now (and next week, when the temperatures are supposed to plummet) to help you and your horse both be ready to enjoy it to the fullest.
Fitness – Yours
We’ve all likely heard it before – riders are athletes. And even if you’re just a weekend trail rider who likes to saunter for an hour or so at a sedate pace once a week, riding still uses muscles in different ways than most other activities.
While you may not need the aerobic conditioning of a marathon runner, you should still pay attention to your fitness, for your own sake, and that of your horse. An out of shape rider typically has poorer balance and body control than a fit rider – making the work of the horse increase exponentially.
By adding some gentle aerobic conditioning like walking or swimming, along with core exercises such as Pilates, you can become the partner your horse has always dreamed of. Added benefit? You’ll have more energy to tackle other areas of your life, like Spring cleaning.
Fitness – His
Just as poor conditioning can lead to more injuries for weekend warrior humans, the same holds true for your horse. If he’s had much of the winter off due to weather or footing issues, be sure to start him back slowly. Better 20 minutes of walking a few times a week than an hour on a Saturday. Too dark/frozen/cold to ride? Hand walk your horse. It’s a great time to brush up on those ground manners, and you’ll know he’s had at least 20 minutes of controlled walking. This is especially important if your horse is on limited turnout. Added benefit? By hand walking, you’re reaping the benefits of those 20 minutes of exercise, too.
Vaccines, blood tests, health papers
If you’re planning on traveling to any competitions this year, or even just trailering somewhere to trail ride, make sure your horse has the necessary vaccines, blood tests and health paperwork in place ahead of time.
Virginia requires either a health certificate that’s current within the last 30 days and a negative Coggins test within the past 12 months; or the new Equine Interstate Event Permit (EIEP).
This permit, which became an option at the beginning of 2013, is good for 6 months and is honored in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.
For more information on the EIEP, check out THIS press release from the Virginia Cooperative Extension office. If you’d like more information on travel requirements of all 50 states, USRider has a handy resource you can check out HERE.
Tack and Equipment
Winter, when you may not be riding daily, is a great time to go through all of your tack and make any needed repairs or upgrades. Go through bridles, girths, billets and stirrup leathers and check stitching. Check all leather for dry spots, cracking or chew damage. While a periodic inspection is no replacement for regular checkups while you’re cleaning your tack, it can be a great time to strip everything down and inspect it in great detail.
It’s also a perfect time to get your trailer into your mechanic and have the annual service done. Checking brakes, tires, wheel bearings, axels, the jack, ramp and floor are important regular maintenance tasks. Just remember that, as with your tack, an annual checkup is no substitute for checking before every use. Your horse’s life literally depends on it.
There you have a few things to keep you occupied over the next few weeks. And by the time Spring does make its official appearance on March 20, you and your horse will be ready to make the most of it.