Autumn definitely feels like it is coming and I don’t know about you but my horses are telling me about it. One of my horses Travis has always been very opinionated about the arrival of Autumn, quite frequently all four legs will leave the floor followed by a grunt to say “I am not happy about this change in weather”. He seems to get a sudden fear of dogs alone in the woods, which the rest of the year is absolutely fine. Do you find that your horse has any behavioural changes or perhaps physical changes other than a thicker coat.
Another of my horses doesn’t change his mood or behaviour but is showing more signs of back stiffness. The colder nights can cause muscles to tighten and present as sensitive or sore to touch. Your horse may be showing signs of being uncomfortable when being saddled. Such as trying to bite, dipping away when the saddle is placed on the back, pinning years back, showing the white of the eye, tossing their heads. The list can go on. This can be quite mild or severe.
The above signs can also be indicative of ulcers present but if this is sporadic and coincides with when the temperature drops it could just be some tightness or stiffness due to the cold. Horses sometimes shiver to help keep themselves warm or tighten through their muscles when the temperatures are low. Try and think how you feel when cold. Your body closes down your muscles feel tight and tired this is the same for the horse.
So what can you do to help your horse
Rug or not to rug!
This is always a difficult thing at this time of year. My general rule is to rug when under 7 degrees or if below 10 degrees and it is raining if not clipped. However if your horse has shelter then rugging can be much less if at all (this does depend on breed). This is a matter of preference but as owners we do tend to over rug horses. The only exception I have been making recently with one of my own horses is because he has been showing some soreness through his back and it correlates with the colder nights. As a result I would suggest rugging in this instance so that his muscles don’t tighten up. This could also be applied to older horses, who generally experience more muscle stiffness. A light rug or sheet would just help keep the back warm during the night and hopefully reduce the occurrence of a sore back.
It might not be your horses back but a hind leg or shoulder that they suffer stiffness. Massaging the muscles around this area before tacking up can really helps loosen up by increasing blood flow into the area. If you are unsure what to do ask your body worker or massage therapist to show you.
Using carrot stretches before work can also help to loosen and engage the core. Keep them gentle and don’t hold them for long periods of time. We want the horses to mobilise through the body rather than hold a stretch. This will create a horse than is ready for exercise. In hand exercise such as stepping under, belly lifts, pelvic tucks, walking backwards can all help as well.
The use of heat can also help. Use a heat pad or hot water bottle but make sure it is not to hot. Placing over the area that is often stiff will help draw blood into the area and soften the tissue. Massage will have a similar effect
Warm up slowly
When starting your ridden work start off in walk for longer asking your horse to stretch long and low before collecting them up. Get your horse to bend to either side while still on a lose rein. This will encourage lengthening through the back and sides, engage the core and mobile joints. You can carry this into a trot as well, once you have loosened the horse then you should find that their movement should be loser. You may find that lunging before ridden work may also help. It also allows you to see how your horse is moving and where they might be stiff.
Lateral work further into your ridden session can also help to loosen up.
Holding stretches is something you want to avoid when your horse is not warm. Always think of dynamic stretches i.e. movement through a range rather than static holds. Static stretching doesn’t prepare the body as well for exercise as dynamic stretches do. At the end of exercise when the horse is still warm or through massage then static stretches can be used to help ease tension in an area. Again this is something your body worker or massage therapist can show you.
If your horse does show signs of discomfort on a regular basis then a vet should be consulted to make sure there are no other underlying issues. Always make sure you have your saddle regularly checked especially at seasonal changes as your horse can change shape. Lastly regular massages can really help all horses from field companions to top level competition horses throughout the year.
If you would like to discuss any musculoskeletal issues your horse is experiencing please do get in touch with Pollyanna by using the buttons below