- full clinical examination;
- dental check;
- blood sample to test your horse's internal organs; and
- faecal worm egg count to check for worms and allow us to advise on worming.
It is important to assess your horse's body condition regularly as this can be neglected in the cold, wet winter months when they are fully rugged the whole time. Despite the lack of good grass at this time of year, forage should form the bulk of their ration in the form of hay/haylage. The hard feed should be fed according to workload and body condition. Some horses will only require good hay and a balancer. As work levels increase/decrease, keep an eye on the condition and adjust if necessary. You may need to make further changes once the spring grass comes through.
A thorough daily/weekly groom can help to prevent skin problems and allows you to spot any cuts/scrapes, mud fever or lumps and bumps so you can deal with them straight away. Hairy winter coats can hide things if you aren't thorough! Pick out your horses' feet daily and be on the lookout for thrush, which is so common in wet weather.
Please don't assume the saddle you used all last year will still fit; your horse will change shape throughout the year and as they grow and mature. Get a qualified saddler out to check it at least yearly (and more regularly if needed) rather than once the horse has a sore back or is bucking you off! It can also be useful to have your horse checked over regularly by a qualified physiotherapist to keep them in top shape and feeling well.
Ideally, turn your horses out every day regardless of weather or field conditions. It is good for their health, helping minimise respiratory problems and colic as well as keeping them safe and helping to prevent boredom. However, if field turnout is impossible, try turning out in the arena for a few hours, or at the very least ride or lunge them daily.
Invest in a good waterproof rug and make sure your horse is dry underneath after even the heaviest of rain. Take care that your horse doesn't become too hot though, when the weather is mild, being sweaty under the rug is as bad as being wet and can result in skin problems. Often a waterproof lightweight rug is enough, especially if your horse isn't clipped. If your horse is overweight, take advantage of the cold weather to encourage weight loss.
Check your horse has clean water to ensure it’s not frozen over or surrounded by mud! Some horses prefer slightly warm water. If they are very fussy, placing apples in the water bucket can encourage drinking and prevent dehydration and possible impaction colic.
It can be hard with all the wet and icy weather, but it is very important to avoid just spending your whole time trotting endless circles in the arena. Instead, incorporate weekly sessions of pole work/jumping and go to the beach, if possible.
As you concentrate on your horse's fitness, don't forget about your own! Although pilates is great for core strength in riders, regular running (or even walking) is beneficial to ensure that you don't end up more tired than your horse!