How to Bring your Horse Back into Work
I am currently out of the country on family business and have no idea how long I will be gone. As I take one day at a time here, my horses are sitting around at home getting fat. So, I have decided to write a blog about how I plan to bring my horses back into work.
I have been trying to keep myself fit by walking every day but it's not been easy. It is important, no matter what discipline you ride, for your horse to be fit enough to perform adequately without causing him injury. You wouldn't run a marathon without training. Your horse shouldn't be expected to give lessons, canter for an extended period of time, or jump around a course if he has had a few weeks off. Not only is it sensible to bring your horse back into work slowly it could also save money on vet bills.
Each horse is different and training programs should be too. Take into account the age, current condition, health, and expectations of your horse before beginning a training program. You should also consider your own fitness, time available to you, and your climate.
Before you embark on your fitness regimen, make sure that your horse is sound and healthy. Check with your veterinarian if your horse is recovering from an injury.
Start Your Exercise Routine
Start slowly with walking and maybe some trotting. Gradually increase either distance or speed, but never both at the same time. Make sure he is moving forward and lifting his back. Do exercises at each gait that improve flexibility and strength. For example, simple lateral work, transitions, and circles. This also helps to keep you and your horse interested while you also increase the workload.
Be sure to keep track of every time you ride. Wear a watch and note exactly what you do each time. Every ride counts. Even slow work can build stamina and muscles. You can keep a journal or use an app. I like Equilab. It allows you to track each time you ride, if necessary, multiple horses. It tracks how much time you spend at each gait and the total length of time you ride. It's a great tool to help you.
Gradually increase the length of your rides or the length of time you ride at faster gaits. You are your horse's personal trainer. Your horse might need some encouragement to increase the workload each time. Be firm but careful not to push him before he is physically ready. Unless you are very fit already you will also have to work hard.
The length of time you spend at each gait and the rate by which you increase it will need to be customized to each horse. Make sure your horse is well shod or had a recent trim. Whenever possible, ride in a soft (but not too soft) riding arena.
Sample Program to Bring your Horse Back into Work
This program is designed for a horse that has been regularly turned out and walked in hand for a few days prior to the beginning. It is intended that you will ride between four and six times per week. If you are short of time you can add lunging to your program as it can be quicker than riding.
Week 1: 30 minutes per ride with 5 minutes trotting
Week 2: 30 minutes per ride with 10 minutes trotting
Week 3: 40 minutes per ride with 15 minutes trotting
Week 4: 40 minutes per ride with 20 minutes trotting and 5 minutes cantering
Week 5: 40 minutes per ride with 20 minutes trotting and 10 minutes cantering
This program is a good beginning and can be built on. However, for some horses, this will be too aggressive, and they would need to go even slower. A good way to monitor your horse's fitness level is to take his pulse. An average horse's heart rate is between 32 - 36 beats per minute. Make a note of his heart rate before and after your workouts. After working, a horse's heart rate should return to normal within 15 minutes. If your horse's pulse is still elevated after 30 minutes of rest, the workout was too much for him. You should cut back and slowly work back up again. Body soreness, resistance, pinned ears, and other signs of pain may also indicate that your horse is working too hard.
The best way to ensure you and your horse are progressing at a suitable pace is to work with an experienced trainer. They can give advice and suggest movements to add to your routine.
Disclaimer: Always consult your vet if you have any concerns. This blog can not replace the advice of a veterinary or trainer who works directly with you and your horse.
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