While riders in the northern U.S. are breaking ice from their horses’ water troughs, riders on the winter show circuit are sweating under the hot Florida sun.
Few of us may ever get a chance to experience the perpetual summer of the upper level show world, but someday you may purchase a horse from a climate very different from yours, or relocate. Before that happens, it’s smart to think about how best to acclimatize your horse to a new home.
We got a few tips from professional horse people who are pros at helping their horses adjust to different environments. Be sure to subscribe to the SUCCEED blog for other horse health advice to keep your horse feeling his best in any weather.
Prepare Horses for Long Distance Travel
Lynn Palm, a professional trainer who has coached her riders to 34 Reserve and World Championships, spends the cold months in Florida, but travels north to Michigan during the summer. She says that the best defense against relocation-based ailments is a healthy horse—but she also adds salt to her horses’ feed several days in advance to encourage hydration. “A horse that travels well is a horse that is eating hay and drinking water,” she says.
Changing environments means anticipating your horse’s temperature comfort zone before he’s chilled or too warm. Professional eventers Leslie Law and Lesley Grant-Law are a husband-and-wife team who travel frequently. Because horses often overheat during travel, Grant-Law recommends leaving the belly and leg straps undone and tied up so that blankets can be removed easily if a horse overheats.
“Also remember that dust from the road and hay nets can get in a horse’s eyes during travel,” she says. “If we have any horses with past eye troubles we usually put fly masks on them to minimize the chance of something getting in their eyes.”
Ease Horses into a New Diet Slowly
A horse’s digestive system is easily affected by sudden changes. Bagged feeds may be universally available across the country, but you’ll need to introduce your horse to local forage if you’ll be staying long (or relocating for good). Bring enough hay, chaff or other forage to mix with the horse’s new hay for at least 3-5 days to help him adjust. Also, be vigilant about quality-control checks.
“Long term, be sure that the hay quality has protein and mineral levels that are similar to what the horse is used to,” Palm says. “You can get the hay tested if you see a change in the horse after a few weeks or months of eating it.”
Dealing with Climate Changes
Professional polo player John Martin, who is based in the U.K. but spends the winter season in New Zealand, has twice brought horses from New Zealand to England during the British spring/summer. They arrived after a long flight into a strange climate and with shaggy coats suited to the Southern Hemisphere winter.
“The most important thing is to time clipping correctly,” Martin says. “My second horse arrived in England in April, so I worked her for about a month with her NZ winter coat, then fully clipped her out once she was in work again and her coat was causing her to sweat. You don’t want to take it off too soon or they’ll get cold and lose weight—and you don’t want to leave it too long, as sweating with a thick coat will also cause weight loss.”
Buying a horse from a different hemisphere may not ever be on the cards for you, but if you make a cross-country move, the same logic applies. A horse that winters in Florida may not have an adequate coat when he arrives in Ohio in May, for example. Be especially attuned to the weather during unpredictable shoulder-season weather.
Ease Horse Back Into Work After Relocating
Remember that even if your horse seems to be settling in just fine to his new home, you still need to remain vigilant. Leslie Law and Lesley Grant-Law take the temperature of a recently arrived horse several times to guard against the so-called shipping fever, or respiratory disease. They also recommend taking it easy on new arrivals.
“Most of the time we find that horses show up in fabulous form and then a week or two later seem to go through a kind of ‘low’ phase where they seem out-of-sorts and lethargic,” Grant-Law says. “Most of all, be patient! We find it takes 4-6 months before young ones acclimatize. They often have to deal with a new climate, very different footing/way of going, different feeds, and new allergens, and there is no way to speed up this process except to be patient.”
Good Health is Your Best Insurance
Ensuring good overall health is essential before travel. Horse’s digestive health is a critical element of this: maintain and boost your horse’s ability to absorb essential nutrients and to make the most of his food before hitting the road with SUCCEED. We also recommend giving an extra syringe of SUCCEED immediately prior to loading horses for travel, a practice that is endorsed by Lynn Palm and by Olympians like Steffen Peters.
Thanks to our expert contributors:
|Lynn Palm is a Quarter Horse breeder, trainer, rider, judge, and clinician. Along with her many accolades, including 34 World and Reserve Championships and the 2006 AQHA Professional Horsewoman of the year, Lynn has helped countless horses and riders through clinics and expos. Read other articles with tips from Lynn Palm.||Leslie Law and Lesley Grant-Law are accomplished three-day eventers with a growing list of achievements. Leslie took home an individual gold with the British eventing team in 2004 at Athens, while Lesley was short-listed for the 2008 games in Hong Kong with the Canadian team. Read other articles with tips from Leslie and Lesley Law.|