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Conditioning Your Horse After a Winter Break

Updated: May 4, 2021

Conditioning your horse after a few months off can prove to be exciting for both you and your horse. Often during this comeback period your horse is more susceptible to injury. Here are several things owners can do to ensure the safety and proper conditioning for their horse. Before introducing an equine exercise program after winter break, an outline of personal equine goals with a conditioning program that meets your end goal should be created. Next complete a body condition scoring (see link below). Some ideal body condition scores are as follows; Performance horses or young growing horses should have a score of 5-6. Broodmares should score 5-7 and any horse scoring above 7 could potentially lead to metabolic disorders, such as, Cushings. Knowing if your horse is too thin or overweight is important before beginning a new exercise program so that adjustments can be provided to optimize the health of your horse. In addition, having a spring checkup with a veterinarian is a good idea to ensure your horse is healthy and sound

before returning to exercise. Many of you have probably heard the phrase “horses feeling their oats” coming into the spring months Your horse might appear “fresh” or excited, but do not confuse that for fitness. Introducing exercise after a winter break needs to be done gradually and slowly, starting with low intensity exercises. Muscle aches and pains may potentially manifest as back stiffness, changes in movement, negative attitude, vices and refusals. Introducing exercise too quickly can eventually lead to extreme physical exertion also known as “tying up” or azoturia. This happens when the exercise program is increased too rapidly and the breakdown of muscles and loss of electrolytes. Symptoms of this often mimic colic and include; Muscle pain, fatigue, abnormal stretched out stance, excessive pawing, and frequent attempt to urinate which displays a brown/red color. When introducing exercise begin with a slow exercise of 15-20 minutes including a lot of walking and walk/trot transitions. A well-balanced exercise program with proper nutritional intake is necessary. In addition, you need to account for the extra calories being utilize and adjusting feed for your horses current age, weight, and workload is important as it needs to be done slowly overtime. It is recommended that when adjusting feed, to replace approximately 20-25% of the feed every other day over the course of 7-10 days until 100% of the feed change has been implemented. This helps maintain healthy gastro bacteria without upsetting the horse’s digestive system or causing colic. With the extra calories being added to the diet, horses water intake may also increase. Temperature, weather, and work load all play an important role in water intake, and the intensity or time a horse can be worked. In conclusion, when deciding to exercise your horse after winter break, you should set realistic goals, schedule a health exam, and create a well-balanced diet. Finally, take it slow and steady, those pounds don’t shed themselves overnight!

Written by Ashlynn Noble

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