Our weather in Ohio is being very shy about giving us a taste of spring and preventing us from riding. But we know it is surely on its way! Horses are shedding and even a few perennial flowers are showing their faces. Some of the best riders that I know are just beginning to think about getting outside and working their horses.
If you are privileged to have an indoor arena, you may have been keeping up this winter with your riding. But for those of us that wait for the sunny warmer days, here are some tips and ideas to get you and your horse off to a good start to spring riding.
Cleaning your Tack
One of the best ways to get started to to check all of your tack. You want to be sure your bridle and saddle are in good condition. I know we all clean and oil tack form time to time, however, since its spring and we want to be sure to have our tack ready when we are. I personally bring my saddle and bridle into our house for my first spring cleaning. You may have a garage or tack room that work well for you. I start with a good cleaning of saddle soap and those great little round sponges that just about every tack shop carries. I also have soft cotton cleaning cloths on hand. Whatever discipline you ride, your saddle needs to be cleaned on top and under all the skirting or flaps that it has. Follow the saddle soap instructions, don’t soak your saddle, rather a light lather will do the trick. Be sure to wipe all metal or decorative appointments as well. If you have silver on your saddle, consult the silver cleaner that you use.
I personally like to do a thorough cleaning rather than just using a ‘one in all’ conditioner such as ‘Leather New’ in the spring. (I do use those later in the year occasionally). I also like to take my girths, leathers or cinches off of my saddle to clean them well. Any built up dirt on the metal parts are wiped clean. If your girth or cinch is showing signs of worn stitching or breakage, it’s a good sign to think about purchasing a new one. There is nothing worse than having faulty tack that can lead to accidents with your horses. Clean your leathers well too.
My bridle needs to be unbuckled and cleaned. When your riding your horse you want to be sure buckles are the easiest to undo and redo easily. Clean your bit and if you have had any rubbing issues with your horses mouth, now is the time to order bit keepers or bit guards so your horse will be more comfortable.
Once your tack is cleaned, it will need a through oiling. I use Pure Neatsfoot oil, but there are many conditioners or oils on the market. Just be sure to oil it well and give it time to absorb into your saddle. If you per-planned for your saddle cleaning, let it sit overnight. I like to get into all the deep crevices and use a syringe to lightly push the oil under flaps. Doing the top side first then the underside. Sometimes I leave my saddle upside down overnight. The bridle needs oil on all parts, especially the buckle straps. Be sure sewn over areas get some oil on the inside of the leather. Some sewn leather should not be soaked due to the wear to the stitching so use a bit of caution on sewn areas of your tack. (Be sure not to twist leather when you put your bridle back together. Check this after cleaning or before getting ready to put you bridle on your horse).
After your saddle has absorbed the oil, rub it well to a shine. Make sure your bridle and reins are wiped as well. Wash your saddle pads if you are able and/or see if they have worn. Again, it’s a good time to purchase a new one, if it is worn to protect your horses back from the saddle.
Preparing Your Horse
We sometimes expect too much from our horses. If we consider their age and abilities along with how much conditioning they have been used to (or not used to), we need to ease into spring riding. Also, young horses may be looking at everything except where you want them to go. They also may be thrown off guard easily by just a bird that flies or a plastic bag. Older horses may not want to leave a full feeding before a workout and can be sore starting out -so when you start riding, consider your horses attitudes, how flighty they may or may not be as well as if they need a slow and progressive ride.
You may already know this, but windy days seem to set some horses on edge. Plan ahead knowing you need to beware of their attitude on days with wind.
You may be an outdoor arena rider, a jumper, a dressage rider or just riding for pleasure. Whatever your discipline is, start slow, on the flat and allow your horse to regain trust with you as you work through your walk. Once you feel your horse is listening move to the trot. Work on evenness rather than a speed up and slow down pace. My friend always told me to sing Yankee Doodle in my head at at medium pace and if my horse could not keep at that steady rhythm, we needed more work before we moved onto anything else. Just the walk and trot can be enough work to start conditioning. Don’t forget that if you are riding in an arena or in a work area, you horse has two sides and each side needs to be worked. One overlooked que that is the most important one is ‘Whoa’. Be sure your horse is ready to stop on command. If not be sure to get this que down before leaving an area that is fenced or enclosed. If you cannot stop your horse, you can be put in to dangerous situations. Be sure you work on the stop que.
If you are a trail rider, take a slower ride and watch your discance. Remember, however far you go, you will have to go the same distance to return. So start slow and don’t go too far for your first ride. Watch your time and increase it in increments of 15 or 20 minutes.
Check to see if your horse breaks out in a sweat, (especially if winter hair may have shed completely yet), whether you are in an arena or trail riding. If so, slow down and walk. Give your horse a break. After riding, walk him or her until their chest feels cool again or at a normal temperature. This is important while you build up stamina to avoid colic. Try to be consistent in your rides with your horse as you build back to riding fully once again. If your riding once a week, take more time with your horses as compared to every other day or everyday riding.
Riding can take a toll on us if we have not been active or exercised in some time. We need to be able to be relaxed in the saddle and not be stiff and rigid if we want to communicate with our horses well. Stretching is one of the easiest ways to be ready for your first spring rides. The web offers many tips on how to stretch before riding so you won’t be too sore to get back in the saddle a day later. Start a few weeks prior to riding. Depending on your age and your abilities, go at your pace and be sure not to over do. (Consulting a doctor is always advised for any exercise above your normal days exertion). If you feel a bit uneasy starting to ride again, be sure to have another good rider with you or someone on the ground to have a watchful eye. There is no shame in being safe and it is better to start with confidence rather than starting off in fear.
Have fun with your spring rides! Once again you can feel the wind in your hair and your horse’s mane on those warm and sunny days. There is nothing better than riding.
Laugh much and ride often!