Pre-Riding Season Checklist

We find most horses are willing partners in our riding adventures. If your horse begins to act less than enthusiastic, especially if they are normally chompin' at the bit to hit the trail, it's important to fully evaluate your horse to eliminate the possibility that their less-than-stellar attitude can be attributed to a physical condition, discomfort under saddle, or behavior that needs correcting. 
Of course some horses are more willing and have a little more fire in their engines than others, but if your horse is flat-out not buying the notion of riding, or even if their enthusiasm has waned more than normal, you want to figure out the reason. Having a full body checkup at least annually can allow you to catch and address an issue before it has the potential to turn into long-term soundness or behavioral hurdles. At least you will know if there is something physical going on or if their unwillingness is simply laziness or something that can be addressed with training and conditioning. 
I'm sure some of you are thinking, 'yada yada yada, I check my horses all the time...', and that's great if do! Some of us need a reminder to prompt us to do so thoroughly at least once a year--sort of like making sure you change your smoke detector batteries at each Daylight Savings event!
  1. Check their hooves and legs. Hard, uneven winter ground can cause little sprains and bruises to the bottoms of their hooves. Alternatively, brisk Spring days that make them want to kick up their hooves combined with slick, muddy footing can do the same. 
  2. Make sure your horse's teeth are in good shape. Look for rough edges, broken or cracked teeth, and also that your bit doesn't come into contact with their teeth in any way. Have an equine dentist evaluate annually for good measure, especially if you aren't sure what to look for. 
  3. How is your horse moving? If there seems to be a hitch in their step, their backs look out of alignment, or they are favoring one leg over the other it's time to call in a professional. Equestrian veterinarians, chiropractors, and message therapists can often help isolate where the issue is and help put your horse on the path to healing. Again, having an equine veterinarian provide a full evaluation at least once a year is a sound practice.
  4. Is your horse sensitive to pressure anywhere? Run your fingers along the spine, about four inches down from either side of the spine, at each scapula, and back towards the loins. If your horse is sensitive in any of these areas, there may be bruising caused by incidental contact with another horse or object in the field or barn, or it may be caused by pressure from the saddle.
  5. Want to check for saddle fit but don't know how? Read the article HERE
  6. Check your bit to make sure there is no contact with the teeth, bars or roof of the mouth. It should be adjusted high enough where they don't feel they have to reach for it--making them move strung out--but not being so high they tend to feel gagged and over-flex. To learn more about different types of bits and how they work, watch our bitting video HERE
Usually by running through these tests you can isolate if and where you are running into trouble. If not, seek the advice of a professional equine health professional. Do all these things prior to concluding it's simply a behavioral/training issue. Horses have a strong fight or flight instinct and pain can cause either or both of these reactions. 

Here's to a safe and adventurous riding season!

~Jamie Evan