10 Tips for Trail Riders
by Robert Eversole
Unless you’ve maintained your riding schedule throughout the winter (and if you have, Bravo to you!) this is an excellent time to start prepping not only yourself for the start of riding season, but also to get your horse or mule into tip-top shape. These simple tips will guide you in some of the most common—and important—areas to address.
1) The old saying “No hoof, no horse” is just as true now as it always was. If you haven’t been riding for a while it’s easy to let those regular farrier visits slip by. Now is a perfect time to prioritize hoof care on your schedule. Also, since spring is typically wet take care to prevent fungal and bacterial issues such as Thrush and White Line Disease. Both thrive in wet environments. Prevent founder by limiting grazing on lush spring grass and keeping hay in front of your mounts.
2) Since biting insects are the vectors for many equine diseases, spring is the perfect time to schedule annual vaccinations and vet checks before bugs wake from their winter’s slumber. Check with your veterinarian to determine which vaccines should be administered for your area.
3) Dental care is important and should be included as maintenance healthcare for most horses. Your vet or equine dental specialist can help; proper dental care helps keep your horse healthy. As equine teeth grow continuously and the grinding motion from feeding may not be even, it’s important that any uneven wear be smoothed.
4) Eliminate any lurking parasites now to ensure that your mount has the best health and stamina for those early rides. There are a multitude of products on the market for this purpose, so check with your vet for the best de-worming rotation schedule for your particular circumstances.
5) The lengthening days of spring not only bring forth flowers, they are also what causes your horse to shed its winter coat. Get rid of any crud that has accumulated over the winter with a good curry comb and some elbow grease. You’ll benefit from the exercise and the horse will enjoy the massage.
6) Hopefully you cleaned your tack before you put it away for the winter. Remember that leather dries out if left in the sun and molds if kept in a damp area. Both of these issues can seriously degrade the leather’s strength so give every item of tack a thorough going over. Saddle soap and a toothbrush will work wonders for removing any grime from last season’s outings and a light coat of a good leather moisturizer will return a bit of life to the leather.
7) Once you’ve cleaned your tack, make sure that it still fits your horse. We’re not the only creatures that change shape over the fall and winter holidays so don’t be surprised if your horse or mule has gained some weight. If your mount has lost weight you might want to mention that to your veterinarian. Now is the time to make any cinch or pad adjustments, not at the trailhead while your riding buddies wait.
8) Now that your horse is clean, healthy, and ready to go make sure to start off slowly. Just as you wouldn’t do well going straight from the couch to a marathon, neither will your horse. Start a spring conditioning program before heading out on more difficult rides. Go slowly and add time, mileage, and trail difficulty as you go.
9) If you’ve not ridden in a while, you and your mount may need a few spring tune-up lessons before hitting the trails in earnest. Make sure your horse’s “brakes” work and that you have an open line of communication.
10) With your horse fit, cleaned, and conditioned and your tack ready to go, you’ll be ready to embark on another wonderful spring, summer, and fall riding season. If getting to your favorite riding areas require hauling to the trailhead, this is also a great time to have your trailer and tow vehicle serviced.
As always, for more information on trail riding and especially equestrian riding destinations throughout the U.S. please visit www.TrailMeister.com, the largest source of free validated trail and trailhead information as well as trail maps to keep you on the right path.
Published May 2012 Issue