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Let the riding season begin! (This is New England peeps)

My favorite time of the year is when I can clean and pack up the horse blankets. Now I can pack up own

cold-weather clothing too. The birds are singing, the buds are coming out, and the mud is beginning to dry up. And let's get the horses ready for outings. trails, shows, and serious training, yay!

Are you and your horse ready? If you were lucky enough to have availability to an indoor facility, then you and your horse might be in decent shape. Otherwise, your horse needs to gradually get in to a training program. It's tempting to go out for a long trail-ride after being cooped up so long, but it's best to go slow and easy. That's part of the spring - you and your horse build back stamina and muscle (and get your bathing suit body back!)

The forecast for ticks this year is bleak. Be vigilant about checking all over your horse for ticks. Brushing alone is not enough. Run you hands over your horse's body. Key places they like: Under the jowls - even the face, on the cowlicks of the chest and forearms, on the cowlicks of the stifle, around the sheath (check all the way up the insides of the thighs, and they just LOVE the tail and forelock. Check the tail all the way down to the tail bone. To remove a tick: grab, twist and pull. Do not let the head remain! Another way to do this is to smother the tick with bag balm, vaseline or some other heavy glob of goo. Leave it on for a half-hour or so then wipe off. The tick will have released. Most horses in my neck of the woods test positive for Lyme at some level. I put my horses through a round of doxy/tetra every year. I've had Lyme - it hurts and if left alone, will kill. Even though the doxycycline doesn't cure the disease, it sends it back in to hiding. When there's nothing to scare the Lyme, it will come out and party on your horse's body in any way it can. Scientists and doctors are working on vaccinations and cures. There are some natural ways to deal with Lyme as well.

This is also the time to get your horses vaccinated. Follow your veterinarian's advice for your area. I'm in northern Connecticut, so we are adding West Nile to our usual recipe of shots. I separate the 5-WAY from West Nile and Strep. It's just easier for their body to deal with instead of all at once. And of course, everyone must do a rabies vaccination and a Coggins. I haven't heard of any Coggins being positive in a long time, but I do remember a wonderful horse in 1977 or 78 that had to be put down for being positive. It was devastating. So, for everyone's sake, don't scrimp on the Coggins. It's also the law. You cannot cross state lines without this paperwork.

Have your horse's teeth checked. I won't get in to the debate of power floating or not. On the other end, I also get a fecal test done - spring and fall.

Check your tack for cracking or breaks. Surface cracking is not the end of the world depending on the thickness of the leather. Get rid of it (don't give it to someone else) when it's brittle and clearly broken. Check your saddle tree - trees can break when a horse falls or rolls on them. It takes a lot to break one, but if you unwittingly ride in a saddle with a broken tree, more than likely you are doing damage to your horse.

Put a plan in place to get your pastures and buildings back up to par - don't wait until winter hits again. Horse trailers should be brought in for a safety check. Even if you don't see anything wrong, you won't regret having peace of mind that it's sound and ready to go all over the place.

Take a moment to reevaluate your feed regime. Most feed manufacturers have representatives that you can talk to about how the feed your using works in conjunction with your horse's age, physical condition and amount of work. There are always new products out there - some really excellent research is going in to the horse feed manufacturing process.

Most of all, be safe. Replace your helmet. Refill your first aid kits. You know things will happen - it can't be helped no matter how vigilant we are. And when it does, stay calm and think. Otherwise, go out there and give you and your horse the gallop you've been waiting for! Winter is gone!!

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