Recreational riding is one of the great joys of life. You can create endless hours of memories enjoying nature while astride your favorite horse. To help extend the usefulness of your four-legged trail riding buddy, here are 10 tips to follow:
Gradually build up your horse’s level of endurance and fitness. If your horse sweats profusely after a short ride, seems out of breath or can’t keep up with the rest of the group, then you probably need to design a regular exercise program that will get your horse in better shape. A weekend warrior regimen, where your horse stands in a corral all week and then is asked to trek cross-country on the weekends, can lead to strained muscles and other problems related to over-exertion.
Whether your horse is shod or goes barefoot, keep regular farrier appointments. The old saying, “No hoof, no horse,” is especially true when it comes to a trail horse.
Consider using supportive leg boots or sport horse wraps for long trail rides, especially those navigating through rough terrain. They can help prevent bumps, bruises, strains and abrasions.
Since you may be coming in contact with unfamiliar horses, make sure your horse is up to date on immunizations. That includes West Nile Virus, particularly if you ride along waterways where mosquitoes are prevalent.
Pack a simple equine first aid kit and stow it in the tack compartment of your trailer. Be sure to include a pack of gauze sponges, roll cotton and a leg wrap in case you need to staunch bleeding or bandage a leg.
Even for short, one-day rides bring along a jug of water and a small bucket so your horse can have a drink before heading home. Allowing him to drink from a communal water trough can expose him to contagious diseases.
Though grazing in a pristine meadow may be acceptable, prevent your horse from sampling the vegetation as you ride down the trail. Not only is this a bad habit, but he could inadvertently grab a mouthful of a noxious or toxic plant, as well as rub his muzzle in poison oak or poison ivy.
Be aware of the footing. Check for boggy mud when crossing water, which can act almost like quick sand, trapping your horse. That can lead to pulled and strained tendons and ligaments. Don’t trot or gallop over hard, rocky ground. Not only can this lead to a painful stone bruise, but repeated concussive forces on hard ground can result in a case of road founder (laminitis). Using common sense on the trail can help prevent an injury that could sideline your horse for weeks.
After a long ride, cool your horse out completely. Don’t just untack and load him in the trailer or abandon him in his corral. Use this cooling down period to groom your horse and look for cuts, rub marks, burrs and brambles.
Consult with your vet if you notice even minor soundness or lameness issues. By addressing warning signs-like your horse’s back tends to be sore after working up and down hills-you can take appropriate measures which can prolong your trail horse’s usefulness. And that can only be a good thing!