For many horse people, autumn kicks off with a change in routine. As the weather starts to get colder, your horse or pony might be stabled or yarded overnight, and this might also mean a change in his diet to more hard feed and hay, as well as more mucking out for you!
At the same time, autumn rains generally bring a ‘flush’ of green grass in the paddocks. Your pony will think this is very yummy, but be careful! Too much fresh green grass in the tummy at once can cause colic or even laminitis, as well as extra-frisky behaviour.
While it’s really tempting to turn your pony out into a nice lushy paddock after he’s had months of dusty, burned-off summer pasture, it’s much better for him if you can restrict his access to the new growth to just a few hours a day. Either strip-graze your paddocks (you might need to ask an adult to help you set up the electric tape) or keep your pony mostly in a yard or a grazed-out paddock (with plenty of hay for forage, of course) until his system can adjust to his new green diet. You might also like to try a grazing muzzle if he is an especially greedy guy.
The coming of the rains will also mean a flush in your paddock’s worm population – yuck! These nasty critters tend to lie in wait during dry, hot months… but when they get some water, and the temperature cools down a bit, they launch into action. It’s really important to make sure your pony’s worming programme is appropriate for his circumstances. Ponies who are lucky enough to cross-graze with cows, sheep or goats will usually need de-worming less frequently than those who live with lots of other ponies – especially if you don’t muck out your paddocks. Have a talk to your pony club instructor – or better still, your vet – about the right worming product to use. You will need a product that is effective against roundworm, tapeworm and bots. And then make sure that it goes down your pony’s throat, and not all down you!
Mud, hair and dust!
Autumn is the time when sleek summer coats start to give way, and before you know it your pony is resembling a hairy beastie! Ponies and horses start to moult their summer coat when the days get shorter – even if the temperatures are still hot – and grow a thicker, longer winter coat. All of that means a lot more grooming for you, and you might also like to think about having your pony clipped early if he is specially furry. Ponies who are working hard will find it very uncomfortable to get sweaty in a hairy coat – how would YOU like to go for a run in a woolly jumper? Clipping keeps them a lot more comfortable, and makes it easier for you to keep them clean and dry.
But if your pony is clipped, he will need a good, waterproof cover. Autumn is the time to drag out all your winter rugs, give them a good wash if they need it, and have any repairs done so you don’t get caught out by an early cold snap.
The autumn rains will soon soften ground for jumping and galloping (hurray!) but too much of a good thing spells MUD – unless you’re lucky enough to live an a part of the country with volcanic soil that never goes boggy. Standing around in mud can cause mud fever in ponies and horses who are prone to it. If your paddocks get muddy, try to keep your pony in a nice, dry yard or stable for at least a part of the day so his feet and legs get some respite.
If the weather in your area goes from suddenly hot and dry to wet, wet, wet, that’s the worst possible story for your pony’s feet. Suddenly going from one extreme to the other can turn hooves brittle and/or crumbly, so you will have to be extra sure to check your pony’s feet thoroughly every day, and book in your farrier for regular visits.
Muddy conditions and damp stable bedding can also put your pony at risk of developing thrush – you’ll notice this if his frogs go smelly and nasty. Ask your farrier his for advice on how to treat this.
Dust is the opposite of mud – but it can also cause problems in autumn, especially for stabled ponies. Being kept indoors can trigger dust allergies, a bit like asthma for ponies, so if yours is susceptible he should be outside as much as possible, and only stabled on dust-free bedding in a well-ventilated box. And no pony should EVER have to eat dusty hay, so turn the hose on your haynets for a good soaking before you put them up.
Autumn is a great time to have a generally tidy up of your pony’s paddocks. Take a trip around the pasture keeping an eye out for poisonous plants such as ragwort, and any hazards like wire, old horse shoes, sharp branches and the like. Make sure you tell an adult if there are any breaks in the fencing, holes or signs of infestations of blackberry or gorse. Then give your water troughs a thorough scrubbing.
If you are lucky, your pony’s paddocks may get harrowed and perhaps fertilised then rested for a while. This will help break the worm cycle and give the chance for the grass to recover.
- Plan some long autumn rides with your friends
- Cooler days and soft ground are perfect for long canters
- It’s clipping time! Which clip will your fave pony have this year?
- Are your pony’s rugs ready to rock and roll? Get them sorted!
- Wage war on worms!
This story first appeared in the autumn 2012 issue of PONIES! magazine