Regardless of whether you are an upper level competitor or pleasure oriented owner, odds are you have a down season in late autumn and winter when you don’t work your h0rse or at least much less than normal at other times of the year. For other enthusiasts, like fox hunters, the reverse season is the case but the pattern is the same.
A break in in high intensity activity can be a plus in its own right but you can make very positive changes beyond simply rest and benign neglect during this time. There are a few things you might not think of doing that can really pay off.
If you don’t have a journal for your horse, start one. Keep it in the barn and jot down at least short notes of things that may be important. F0r example, “off feed this morning” doesn’t necessarily mean too much by itself, but if your horse colics and you can look back and see several episodes like this with increasing frequency it can help your veterinarian zone in on potential causes.
Take a weight tape reading at least once a year. Know how much hay and concentrate your horse eats by actual weight (not scoops and flakes). If you ever have problems with weight gain or loss, the first piece of information your veterinarian will need is how much the horse is eating. Under or over feeding is a very different situation from a horse that is getting the correct calories but not holding weight or gaining too much.
God forbid your horse would ever go missing but if that happened you would need good photographs, preferably from both sides, of the face if marked and close ups of any scars.
Did you notice any nagging issues over the season? Things not really serious enough or consistent enough to make you stop work? An increasing tendency to jump flat? Stiffness starting a work session? Your slow season is probably your vet’s slow season too so this is a perfect time to try to get to the bottom of any problems.
A practice common in the past, not so much today, was to pull the horses’ shoes when they had down time. This typically increases growth, improves wall thickness and encourages the heels to spread. As an added advantage, the horse is free to wear the hoof and set the point of breakover to best suit their conformation and comfort.
Just a little regrouping during your down time can send you into your next season well organized with a healthy and sound horse.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD