Roughing off your hunter: dos and don’ts

  • Horses that have been stabled and rugged up during the winter need preparation before being turned out to help them adjust to the change in lifestyle. This normally takes 2 to 3 weeks, depending on the horse and the weather.

    April can be an unforgiving month, with a wide range of temperatures. A fine day with no frost forecast is the best time to turn horses out, or wait until May, when the climate is better.

    If the weather is hot and the flies are bad, horses will suffer, especially if the condition of the grass is poor and they are given no supplements. High hedges or a field shelter are an asset.

    The ideal way to let a horse down is to turn it out in a paddock for an hour or 2 each day and gradually increase the time until the horse is ready to stay out permanently.

    If the horse has not been turned out all winter, it is best to turn him out into a small paddock, this will stop him galloping about and harming himself and the pasture.

    Individual needs

    Treat each horse as an individual — don’t treat a thoroughbred as you would a more common type.

    You should also consider the horse’s coat — has he grown his summer coat yet? What clip does he have; a hunter clip, half-clip or is he clipped at all?

    As you rough the horse off, gradually reduce the hard concentrates in his diet and begin removing rugs. Hay should be offered to help the horse adjust to his new diet gradually and will stop potential digestive problems or colic.

    Avoid grooming, other than to ensure that there is no mud under the rugs. This will help keep the natural oils in their coat and skin and keep him more protected from the elements.

    Reduce the horse’s work programme until it consists of no more than half an hour at the walk only.

    Once the decision has been made to turn the horse away, don’t be tempted to bring him in unless the weather turns exceptionally bad.

    5 common mistakes

    1. Leaving the tail long – it will become matted with mud and might get caught in the fencing

    2. Removing the shoes yourself and leaving the feet untrimmed

    3. Turning the horse away too quickly on to lush pasture can cause scouring

    4. Turning the horse straight out with no rugs or preparation after the final day’s hunt

    5. Not inspecting the horse at least once a day for lumps, bumps, injuries or anything out of the ordinary

    7 top tips

    1. Cut the tail to 4in below the hocks so that it will thicken up before the horse comes in to return to work

    2. Initially remove the hind shoes when the horse first starts going out to avoid the horse injuring himself or others. When it is finally turned away get your farrier to remove all shoes and trim the horse’s feet

    3. Hunters may need to get their front feet checked for corns

    4. Worm before turning out into a clean pasture

    5. Vaccinate against flu and tetanus

    6. Have the horse’s teeth checked

    7. Inspect the pasture and horses at least once a day

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