It’s That Time of Year

An “orange” horse?

Our barn migrated back from Florida this week. The horses went out on a short turnout the first day, longer the next day with some longeing, and they’re getting closer to a regular turnout and exercise schedule. All this caution is well-considered in terms of their stomachs, muscles and brains. After a couple springs here, I now think of it as an Orange Alert.

I’ve lived my life mostly north of the Mason-Dixon Line, but here in the South, when hooves cut through the top layer of grass, it’s all bright orange clay. Clay not only sticks to the remnants of winter coats more tenaciously than dirt, it also stains. It’s as if grey horses that live outside want to become camouflaged as their chestnut companions, while the chestnuts lose their white markings. I watch the orange shades change with the weather – right after it rains, it’s as if some of the horses are sporting their college colors as graduates of Syracuse, Clemson or Tennessee. The longer it’s dry, the more the clay turns to dust and the horses become a diluted tea shade.

Last year, a local horse group gave a presentation for newbies to the area. They discussed some interesting areas of horse health I hadn’t considered. One was the difference in local grasses and forages from what horses might have eaten in other areas and the differences between fresh grasses and hays. What really caught my attention was the idea that horses used to footing of dirt or sand in other regions might not sense that clay is more slippery. It was pointed out that horses new to clay-based pastures can be prone to soft-tissue injuries.

The news came too late for me. Right after we moved from New York, my mare injured her stifle in the pasture, and we lost six months of work. All is fine now, but I’m reminded that her paddock in Florida was mostly sand – sand so deep that it took six of us half an hour to find a lost shoe. I was shocked the first time I cleaned her hooves there to see her shoes so shiny they looked like aluminum, but it was a constant abrasion from sand. Within two days back in NC, her shoes were again the normal steel shade.

Windy seems to be behaving herself in the pasture so far, but I have my fingers crossed. Of course, her attention is also drawn by all that glorious fresh new grass that she didn’t have last week, so her pasture time will be increased gradually.

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