Horses Get Spring Fever Too!

Heather Spencer

"Horse and Girl" by Canadian painter Alex Colville, 1984.
[This article ran in the May/June 2011 issue of the SCOOP.]

Never have the sayings: "Kick up your heels", "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence", and "Spring Fever", been truer than when they relate to horses in the springtime.

This is the time of year when horses start shedding their winter coats. As you brush them their hair becomes airborne and invariably sticks to your jacket, gloves, hair and skin. No amount of shaking will dislodge the horsehair and later it will clog your washing machine. Horses remove the rest of their hair by rolling in the mud leaving their entire bodies caked in a cement-like coating. As you try to remove this layer, it will stick to your jacket, gloves, hair, face…well, you get the picture. Nothing is more precious than the smile on your horse’s face when he is rolling in the mud just after being groomed. On the plus side, the thick crusty layer of mud protects them from insect bites, especially when the first swarms of black flies attack.

At this time of year, horses will be on the lookout for that first blade of juicy, crisp grass. Even if that first crop is on your neighbour’s side of the fence, your horse’s enthusiasm will not be contained. This is definitely the time to check your fences for any damage after the winter and to hike up all that split rail fencing that has fallen from the weight of the snow. Grain and hay farmers are not amused by thousands of hoof prints dug deep into their fields. They may be your “neigh”bour, but they don’t really like horses. Trust me on this.

Spring arrives and you can’t wait for that first ride. The sun is shining, and for once, the wind is not howling across the landscape. So, you grab a halter and rope and head for the paddock. Your horse, in search of that first blade of grass, may try to run from you, or he may not recognize you without eight layers of winter clothing on, or he may not recognize you because he hasn’t seen you in four months. Undeterred, excited by the prospect of your first ride and with a treat in hand, you will eventually catch the little darling

When it comes time to get on, your mount may look like the same quiet horse you rode last fall, but beware - sometime during the winter, your sweet pet may have turned into a wild beast. Be prepared for bucking, rearing, and spooking at “tigers in the bush”. It doesn’t matter that the trees have no leaves yet for the tigers to hide behind, or that tigers are scarce in Ontario, to your horse - they are there! Don’t forget to strap on your helmet when you finally get into the saddle and be prepared for a faster pace. Your horse will try to rush the ride. He has to get back to find that first blade of grass, remember.

My best advice is just to persevere, hang in there, be on the alert, and try to have fun. Even if the first ride is more exciting than you wanted it to be, remember that it is just the first of many to come this spring, and the more you ride, the easier it gets. Horses aren’t the only ones with spring fever, riders get it just as badly! Now, where did I leave my boots?