Yay, it’s summertime and the time of year where we can look forward to getting out on our horses more. Getting back in the saddle is no doubt at the top of your 'to-do list' and spending the whole summer together, injury free, is the perfect summer!
Managing your horses health and wellbeing at this time of year is as crucial as ever. As their exercise regime changes so do the ground conditions; this can lead to a variety of injuries.
Understanding that your horse needs to adjust to any changes in their exercise routines is vital to reducing the risk of injury.
In this article we focus on some of the most common horse injuries found in the summer season. We investigate the importance of helping your horse get fit. We look at 'field injuries' often experienced in the summer months, the importance in your horse staying well hydrated, allergies, sunburn and even a few poisonous plants to watch out for.
Get fit and reduce the risk of lameness
As the exercise routine of your horse begins to change in the summer months it is important that you provide an exercise routine to help them build-up their fitness and limit the risk of injury.
Just as with any athlete after a summer break, gradually building fitness is key to reducing the risk of injury.
In many cases horse owners will adopt a fitness routine around 6-8 weeks before the summer months arrive.
Most routines will involve a period of endurance conditioning helping to build-up your horses fitness levels. They will introduce a series of exercises to work on the horses flexibility and movement. After 3-4 weeks of gradual conditioning they will likely begin to step-up the intensity of the training and introduce short fast-paced bursts. They will also begin to add strengthening work to the routine such as pole work or hill rides. After a couple more weeks the horse should be reaching full fitness so the remaining period of training focusses on polishing their performance and fine tuning their ongoing wellbeing.
Lameness in summer
In the summer months the ground is much harder which increases the risk of foot and hoof injuries. Try to avoid exercise on hard ground and find a suitably soft surface to help them get back to fitness on.
As they begin to reach full fitness they will naturally begin to push their limits further; this can lead to various tendon, ligament and muscular injuries - such as splint injuries or flexor tendon injuries.
Fetlock injuries are also commonly reported as the ground begins to get harder. The forces put on the horse fetlock joints increase as they land on hard ground surfaces. Other joint conditions in horses can also worsen when the ground becomes harder.
Ensure your horse has suitable rest days in-between exercise and look at supporting their ongoing wellbeing by applying cold therapy after exercise and treat them to a set of magnetic therapy bands for their downtime. It is also advisable to ensure their confirmation and hoof balance is good prior to working out extensively.
Bruised soles caused by the impact of the horse on the hard ground can lead to complications. It’s worth checking your horses hooves after every ride and do what you can to keep their hooves healthy. Supplements and being aware of their diet can help increase the strength of their hoof walls and help avoid lameness caused by bruised soles along with regular farrier work.
If your horse has any signs of navicular it is important to avoid overly working them on hard ground conditions. Although not clinically supported it is widely recognised that horses with navicular disease can show increased lameness when working on harder ground.
The moment your horse is turned out for the first time of the year is a joyous moment for them.
Before you turn your horse out for the first time of the year though, check their field. Make sure that the fencing is all in place and nothing has broken throughout the winter which may injure your horse or allow them to escape.
If the wetter months have caused any damage to the ground this can cause uneven ground which can lead to your horse falling over or pulling up lame. Try and keep the paddock in good condition and flatten or treat any damaged ground to prevent injury.
Once you have decided to turn them out regularly inspect your horse and make sure they are free from any cuts or wounds.
Kicking each other can be a problem with over excited horses. Some people suggest removing the back shoes for the first week of summer turnout on any horses prone to an excited kick or two.
A horse needs between 3 and 7 litres of water per 100kg and is often consumed within a space of just 5 to 10 minutes per day. If your have a sports horse or a horse with an active lifestyle this will be more as they increase their body temperature and sweat more.
It is imperative that your horse has access to clean water at all times and particularly in hotter weather. A lack of water can produce dire consequences such as the onset of colic or kidney failure.
Dehydrated horses may appear to have sunken eyes and will often produce a thick discharge from their mouth.
In hotter months there is often less green grass, a good source of water for horses. Make sure that as their diets change throughout the year that they have access to the required levels of drinking water.
Heatstroke can be experienced by horses. In most cases this follows a period of exercise in the heat but is a medical emergency and can be life threatening. Panting, nostril falling, an irregular heart beat and muscle spasms are all symptoms of your horse developing heatstroke.
Sunburn in horses
As with humans horses can suffer from sunburn and often on their more sensitive areas of the body such as their muzzle (nose area) and even their lower legs and heels. Although rarely serious sunburn in horses can produce blistering which if left untreated can become infected.
Avoid sunburn by applying sun cream to their most sensitive areas and ensure they have access to a shady area in their paddock.
As with humans, horses can suffer from airborne allergies caused by pollen released into the air. This pollen can cause an allergic reaction in your horse and is more common in the summer months.
Allergies are normally mild but in some cases can cause inflammation in the horses airways and make it difficult for the horse to breath, known as anaphylaxis - a medical emergency.
Symptoms of your horse suffering from an allergy include sneezing or coughing, a discharge from their nose, mouth or eyes, a redness of the eyes, head shaking and even skin reactions.
If your horse does suffer from a summer allergy then often they will need to be stabled whilst the pollen levels are high. Wearing a nose net at certain times of the year can help and bathing your horse to remove pollen on their skin can also reduce the effects.
Oral antihistamines, such as hydroxyzine or diphenhydramine, can lower the histamine response and unlike steroids are safer long-term.
As the weather improves many of us attend more shows and events and as such our horses travel more.
During travel horses shift their weight from leg to leg. This action is thought to create the same energy expansion as walking and thus after travelling your horse requires a period of rest and recuperation.
Make sure the driver is well aware of the dangers in driving with a horse in the trailer. Drive with no sudden movements and ensure smooth accelerating around any bends. Driving erratically can lead to various issues with your horse and can be avoided by driving slowly and properly.
There are many plants which can create health issues for your horse and as the summer draws in these plants can become an issue, particularly if flowering.
Ragwort is an instantly recognisable plant with its frilly star-shaped yellow leaves which are common in the UK and can be fatal to horses if eaten. If found, remove at the root and burn the root.
Foxgloves, although rarely eaten by horses, can be fatal to horses in just small quantities.
Yew trees are also common in the UK and produce bright red berries in September to October. As well as the leaves of the tree the berries are also lethal to horses if eaten.
Hemlock, Hogweed, Rhododendrons and Privet are other plants which can be fatal if ingested by your horse and should be removed from paddocks if found in summer.
In many cases, avoiding work on hard ground is impossible. Managing the horses wellbeing becomes vital.
Help your horse cool down after exercise. Make sure to remove tack such as boots and saddles as soon as possible and apply cold therapy (water, ice boots, etc) to help reduce overheating of the tendons. Provide them plenty of water and a cool and shady place to recuperate.
Advanced magnetic therapy bands are now gathering more and more supporters; introducing an approach to the magnetic therapy market which does not produce a thermal reaction when worn. EQU StreamZ horse bands are ideal for use directly after exercise and when resting and recuperating and are highly-rated in the equine market already. Suitable for use on tendon and ligament injuries and developed to naturally target inflammation.
The summer is an exciting time for horse and owner with the prospect of riding more together. Alongside that excitement it is important to adopt a few techniques in ensuring you and your horse are well prepared.
Get fit, plan properly and help reduce the risk of creating any horse related injury.