• What slow shedding might mean • Barn spring-cleaning tips • Grazing muzzle check
Forget bluebirds and daffodils---a sure sign of spring around the barn is horse hair on everything. Don’t just curse the layers of hair covering your saddle pads and truck seats, however. Pay attention to it. How your horse loses his winter coat can reveal important information about his health.
Hair growth and shedding is governed by photoperiods --- the length of sunlight in each day---as opposed to temperature. This means that no matter where you live in the country and no matter how warm it has been, by now your horse will have begun dropping his winter coat.
Slow shedding can be a sign of Cushing’s disease (pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction), a hormonal imbalance common in older horses that can lead to laminitis. If your horse isn’t shedding as readily as he has in the past, or if he’s still significantly more hairy than his barn mates, call your veterinarian to discuss testing for Cushing’s. If your horse has already been diagnosed with the condition, still make the call: His medication may need to be adjusted. In the meantime, consider a body clip to ensure he doesn’t get overheated during the first warm stretch of the year.
On the other hand, patchy shedding can be normal, particularly if the horse does it year after year. It’s not uncommon, for example, for a horse to lose hair from his neck first, then his belly and finally his rump. You don’t need to do anything to help a patchy shedder, but if his looks are just too awkward for you, consider a full body clip.
BARN SPRINGCLEANING TIPS
If you dread organizing closets and mopping behind the refrigerator this spring, you’re not alone. Most of us would rather spend our time and energy cleaning the barn instead. For horsepeople, spring-cleaning is about more than tidying up the tack room, though. As you tackle the job this year, don’t overlook these important tasks:
• Empty and sweep the hayloft or shed. Your hay supplies are likely at their lowest of the year right now,
which means it’s a good time to tend to that space. Remove the remaining bales and sweep the floor thoroughly. Look for signs of rodents. If you find any, devise a plan to evict them. Also check for wet spots on the floor, which probably indicate a roof leak that could lead to moldy bales. Remove cobwebs and bird’s nests, then put back the hay, making sure you stack it near the door so the oldest will be used first after a new load is delivered.
• Declutter the aisle. A passageway filled with tack trunks, rakes and other items is an accident waiting to happen. Designate a new space, in a low-traffic area, to store stall-cleaning tools. Then, move as many tack trunks and containers as possible to a room or stall set aside for that purpose. If blankets and sheets are regularly tossed on the ground, invest in blanket racks. Ideally, the aisle will be free of everything but the occasional horse.
• Scrub troughs, tubs and buckets. Scrubbing troughs and tubs isn’t a once-a-year job, but winter cold can keep you from doing as thorough a job as you would like. Spring is a good time to attack them with a stiff brush and elbow grease. If you need a bit more “oomph,” sprinkle the surface with baking soda as you work. It’s abrasive enough to remove grime but won’t leave a chemical residue if your rinsing is less than perfect. While you’re at it, ensure that any automatic waterers are in good working order with no signs of leakage or corrosion.
• Inspect the stalls. Strip the bedding from your stalls, and give every inch of the space a close look. Start at the floor level and work your way up, looking for frayed or curling mats, rotting wood, protruding nails, mangled salt-block holders and the like. If you can’t fix a problem on the spot, keep your horse in another space until you can repair the damage or replace the item entirely.