Seasonal Safety: Spring Hazards for Horses

The earth is waking up after its winter slumber. Warmer weather and more daylight mean more opportunities to ride. It also beckons sprouting buds and growing grasses, which can present real dangers for grazing horses.

Dust off your riding boots and head into spring riding season informed, making sure your horse is also fully prepared to hit the trail.

Before You’re Back in the Saddle 

Your horse has spent many months slowing with the season. Time to shake off those winter slumps and look toward spring. This spring riding checklist will help get you both up and running (or trotting) again:

  • Make a vet appointment and have a wellness exam performed.
  • Get your horse up-to-date on any necessary vaccinations like West Nile virus, rabies, and tetanus.
  • Test fecal samples for parasites and start deworming medications if necessary.
  • Schedule an oral/dental exam to check the entire mouth from tongue to teeth.
  • Clean hooves and apply anti-thrush treatments to prevent fungi takeover.
  • Give horses plenty of time to adjust to new hooves or shoes before long rides.

Springtime Horse Nutrition

This time of year, your horse is likely still relying on hay. As supplies dwindle, give them a little quality control check. Start by making sure that bales are free of mold. If hay appears too dusty and causes coughing, saturate it in fresh water.

When you do get a new spring batch, clean out dust, mold, and debris from your winter haystacks to avoid cross-contamination.

To avoid digestive upset, let new bales cure for a couple of weeks and feed in a 3-to-1 ratio of old to new, gradually increasing the fresher bales from week-to-week.

Supplement with high-quality horse food and horse treats as needed to make horse nutrition a priority.

Dangerous Spring Grasses for Horses

The fresher the grass, the greener. The greener, the more you have to pay attention to the sugar and NSC (non-structural carbohydrates) starch counts. Since your horse’s instincts tell it to eat large quantities of grass, there’s a chance they’ll be ingesting high concentrations of NSC.

NSC levels are also dictated by weather and environmental fluctuations, so it can be hard to know when a particular patch of grass is safe.

These cues will help alert you of potential danger:

  • Morning Frost– When grass is exposed to temps below 40°F for extended periods of time, NSC levels can rise to unsafe levels.
  • Timing– NSC levels are lowest before the sun comes up. They level off about 10a and continue dropping into late afternoon, especially when skies are sunny.
  • Cut Grass– If clipped shorter than 5” NSCs can be impacted as the growing process kicks off.
  • Rain– Grass that goes through dry spells then soaks up large amounts of rainwater are cause for concern.
  • Overgrazing– The more horses there are eating off the same plot, the more likely they are to deplete the land, leaving only unsafe weeds.

As for specific plants, you’ll want to be sure you can identify warm and cool weather grasses like ryegrass, brome, couch grass, Kentucky bluegrass, fescue, buffalo grass, buttercups, and Bermuda-related strains.

When in doubt, have your pasture tested so you know which strains can lead to issues down the line.

Follow these guidelines so you and your horse can step into spring ready to take full advantage of the season while keeping safe from potentially poisonous plants.