Countdown to Spring: Show season and prime trail riding season will soon be here, but there are some equine preparations you need to finalize before loading up and heading out on your first adventure of the year. Ensuring that these items are completed will make your first off-farm excursion hassle-free. Get your horse in shape This past winter was extremely hard on both horses and horse owners in most parts of the country. But even if ice and snow didn’t hinder your riding efforts this winter, it’s helpful to ramp up your horse’s fitness before setting foot back in the show ring or on the trail. How your horse spent his downtime will affect how quickly he will get back in show-ring shape. If he was turned out most of the time, he’ll come back to peak fitness more rapidly than if he spent most of the winter confined to a stall. No matter how he spent the colder months, it’s helpful to start slow and stick to walking and trotting (or jogging). Over the course of several weeks, you can increase either the amount of time you spend in the saddle, or the speed of your workouts, but you shouldn’t increase both at once. Be sure to pay close attention to how tired your horse is. While you’ll need to push him a bit to build fitness, you don’t want to exhaust him and increase the chance of injury. Additionally, lightly hacking twice a week won’t cut it—you need to make his fitness your priority, even if that means paying someone else to get on him a few days a week in addition to the time you can devote.Vaccinate your horse The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has established guidelines for core vaccines equines should receive. “Core” in this case means those vaccines that “protect from diseases that are endemic to a region, those with potential public health significance, required by law, virulent/highly infections, and/or those posing a risk of severe disease.” (You can hyperlink AAEP to this page, if you want – it’s a great resource: http://www.aaep.org/-i-165.html ) Core vaccines include: Eastern and Western Equine Encephalomyelitis, Rabies, Tetanus and West Nile Virus. Other vaccines may be recommended by your veterinarian according to the region in which you live. These might include Potomac Horse Fever, Influenza and Strangles, among others. If your horse will be getting multiple vaccines, it’s also worth investigating if spreading out their delivery would be easier on your horse. Though you may pay two vet calls, his comfort should be paramount. This is the time to also have a frank conversation with your vet about your horse’s health. Does your vet feel his weight is good? A yearly physical, complete with checks of heart, lungs, vision and hearing never hurt, nor does flexions or a simple once-over of the legs. Teeth floating can also be performed at this time, as can sheath cleaning if you own a gelding. If your vet feels your horse may be a candidate for Equine Metabolic Syndrome, ask if performing a blood test for this problem is in order. Corral Paperwork When your vet comes out to do spring shots, if you plan on traveling with your horse, you will also need to ask for a Coggins test and the accompanying paperwork stating that your horse is negative for Equine Infectious Anemia (for which the Coggins tests). In certain areas of the country, and especially if you plan on traveling out of state, you will also need a health certificate (sometimes within 30 days of travel) stating that the vet deems your horse healthy enough to travel and compete. (this is a great resource about state requirements on Coggins and health certs if you would like to hyper link to it: https://www.usrider.org/EquestrianMotorPlan.html) If you plan on showing your horse, now is the time to make sure your membership to breed and discipline associations is up to date, as well. Once you’ve registered for the current show year, print out copies of your membership, rule books and any other information you may need and keep them, along with your horses’ Coggins and health certificate, in one folder–preferably within easy access in your truck or trailer. Scrutinize tack and clothes If you or your horse gained or lost weight this winter, it’s time to make sure that all your tack and show clothes fit. Be sure to check all stirrup leathers, girths and bridle pieces for wear and tear, and replace them as necessary. Try on your show clothes and ensure they’re clean and ready for the first show of the year–you won’t be caught unaware if your chaps are a bit too snug! Make sure to check the Noble Outfitters™ collection for your warm-up clothes, too! Shoe your horse If you pulled your horse’s shoes in anticipation of a slower winter, now is the time to ask your farrier if putting shoes back on is necessary. While not all horses need to be shod, if you plan on riding on rough trail terrain, it’s worth exploring options, whether that includes shoes, boots or other hoof applications. If you’re headed for the show ring, ask if your horse needs to be shod all the way around, or if he can get away wearing just front shoes to prevent the footing from wearing down his toe. If you’re an eventer or ride in another discipline that requires studs, make sure your farrier knows when to drill and tap your horse’s shoes. Will you be running in some lower levels where you can get away with traditional keg shoes or does your horse need to be drilled and tapped from the get-go? Make sure to have a candid conversation with your farrier about what you plan to do with your horse to ensure he’s safe and ready to go. Give your rig the once over Your truck and trailer haul your best four-legged friend—you want to be sure they’re safe and secure before he ever sets foot in them this spring. If you’re not comfortable giving your rig the once over, take you trailer to a mechanic to have him check the floors, lights, tires (for both inflation levels and for dry rot), breakway battery and hitch. Is there rust anywhere that needs to be addressed? Do your bearings need be repacked? Are there any moving parts that need to be greased? It’s also time to have your truck or tow vehicle inspected as well, including checking the air filter, all belts, brakes and fluids. After a winter like the one most of us have had, we’re all itching to get on the back of our favorite four-legged friend and either ride down the trails or show off in the show ring. With a bit of preparation and organization, your spring is sure to be spectacular.