Horses are shedding, and unless they’ve been body clipped and blanketed all winter, that means clouds of two-inch long hair billowing around and sticking to every surface. Not only does the hair weave itself into fabric, but it clings to smooth surfaces like a balloon you rubbed on your brother’s head and then stuck to the wall. That means don’t wear polar fleece, chew gum or use chapstick (or rub your horse on your brother’s head) otherwise you will be wearing horse hair, chewing horse hair and looking like an entrant in a “best moustache” contest.
Some horse people will body clip their horses once they start shedding to minimize the hair maelstrom. That doesn’t reduce shedding, but it reduces the length of the hair being shed. Horses start shedding as soon as the daylight starts to increase, which means some horses start shedding as early as January.
An interesting phenomenon is that horses with white hair will shed first. Not the horses that have turned white because of a graying gene, but horses that have white markings like paints and
Appaloosas will shed the white hair before the darker colored hair. Even a horse with a blaze
face will start shedding the white stripe before the rest of the coat.
Mud is inevitable. It can be reduced in areas where horses congregate, with loads of gravel or sand added to the footing. In an emergency, I’ve used old carpeting and laid it out in paddocks to give the horses a little buoyancy to get through the mud season. Clipping the long hair on a horse’s fetlocks will help prevent a skin condition called “mud fever” or “scratches.” It’s a fungal inflammation that is caused by horses standing in mud or even in wet grass continuously. The skin becomes crusty and scabby and it can be tough to get rid of, so prevention is preferred.
Treatment includes soaking the horse’s legs to loosen the scabs, scrubbing those scabs off
using an antifungal soap and thoroughly drying the legs. Ointments such as zinc oxide or
diaper rash ointment can be applied to provide a barrier so that re-scabbing is reduced. It is painful for the horse — both the condition and the treatment — so avoiding it is a good idea.
Spring fever affects horses too. After a season of not being able to move around as much, either from deep snow, ice or hard frozen ground; once the ground clears and softens, horses become 1,000-pound antelopes and practice leaping and springing around the pastures. Should one happen to be riding a horse with spring fever, one needs to hold on tight.
Most horses will also be out of shape after a winter of little riding, so their stamina is reduced even if their enthusiasm is increased.
Due to lack of fitness, bringing a horse back to work needs to be done gradually. Returning to
work too soon can cause soft tissue injuries in the horse. For a rider, coming back into work needs to be done carefully as well. Take your time getting back into the saddle or people will look at you funny when you walk into work hunched over and bowlegged.
Riding can certainly be a way to get back into shape if most of your winter has been experienced from the couch. Riding the horse isn’t the only physical experience. There is slogging through the mud to go get your horse, slogging back through the mud to go get your
boot that got sucked off by the mud, grooming with shedding blades, curry combs and multiple brushes, raking up piles of hair after it’s been removed from the horse, carrying and lifting
saddles, and changing your horse’s blankets constantly through the erratic spring weather in
With some forethought and good maintenance, you and your horse will make the transition to
summer riding smoothly. Then we’ll talk about how to deal with black flies.