It's almost that time! You are itching to get in the saddle if you haven't already! Spring fever has hit and you are getting the barn cleaned and organized. Out comes your trusted saddle begging to go to work. You look at your four-legged partner in crime, saying "let’s go for a ride!" First things first though - let's inspect our equipment for cracks and weak points. Most important of all - check the saddle fit. Your horse has probably had a good chunk of time off, so we need to make sure the saddle will be comfortable for him\her.
Pay special attention to the following things:
1. Please remember that just like humans, as the horse gets a year older so does their body. We lose some of our natural coordination if we don't use our body consistently. Standing against the elements all winter does not maintain the coordination needed to balance horses in different gaits, let alone carry a rider with confidence, balance and strength.
2. Your horses’ physique changes during winter depending how active they are and due to weight changes. What fit well last fall when you hung up your saddle may not fit now. (I always encourage my clients to check the balance and fit of their saddles every single time they are used. A horse's back can change from week to week.)
3. Your pad must be clean to prevent saddle sores. In spring as horses start to shed, their skin is more prone to getting rubbing or friction sores. The hair is thicker and has winter dander that has a tendency to catch and stick to blankets because it is shedding to make room for the summer coat. The horse's skin chemistry changes to accommodate the new coat. (Thoroughbreds especially are prone to girth sores no matter how clean you think you got them!)
Here are my suggestions for getting you both ready for the riding season!
1. If your horse has been idle all winter and you can free lunge for 4 or 5 minutes every time before you start riding, this reacquaints your horse to his own balance naturally. That little courtesy makes it easier for your horse to adapt to challenges of balancing and carrying you; and it stimulates muscles to start strengthening on their own.
2. Have your equine dentist or vet check for hooks, broken teeth, etc.
3. Check your saddle fit! The saddle may look balanced, but still be sitting with its tree too deep around the horse. This won't cause pain, but will inhibit forward movement , causing your horse's muscles to fatigue faster. If the saddle is unbalanced and binding your horse, you may be in for a very disagreeable first ride. I always tell my riders, "Let your horse tell you if they are happy. If your horse moves better after a change, or behaves in a more relaxed way then there's your answer." All the scientific studies, marketing arguments and opinions do not equal what the horse has to say. He is the one wearing the saddle - and he didn't read the memo!
4. Check the girth area, specifically right behind the horse’s elbow and after you ride. Inspect for loss of hair, swelling or sore spots. If you have a horse with very sensitive skin, a clean fleece cover helps prevent problems until they are fully shed out.
5. Along with the horse, please treat yourself with the same patience and kindness. Remember, your bones are also a year older - and yes, you may have been to the gym all winter or doing snow sports, but riding is a different use of muscles and coordination. Don't start out your first day with a full agenda on all you have to accomplish or how far you want to trail ride because it's a beautiful day. Give yourself the opportunity to get back in touch with your own body and with your four legged friend!
Thank you and enjoy the ride!