I talked a little about Denny’s conformation in my last blog, he has a very big back end in comparison to the rest of his body and finds canter hard. He is also cow hocked in the back end with his left hind turned out slightly more, he has the farrier regularly and he wears brushing boots so I really don’t take notice.
However, I do now. It was the day I broke him that I realised how important understanding your horse’s conformation is when training and building strength.
I found the unit on conformation fascinating, this has been my favourite unit so far. I also chose to do my assignment on Denny, I wanted to know more about how he was built and what I could start doing to ensure he was strong and fit despite any weaknesses. Conformation isn’t something to be scared off. No horse is perfect, just like no person is even and correct. We all have something to work on, strengthen and have massage or physiotherapy to help when we get stiff or uncomfortable. So the same goes for our horses!
So I was extremely aware of Denny’s areas of weakness after this assignment and made it my mission to work on making things easier for him. I go to dressage lessons every week and my instructor and I decided Denny needed more open space to canter and do bigger long straight lines and build up his strength. He just really struggles with 20-meter circles. So off I went to the Gidgegannup showgrounds, we had such an amazing ride. He happily cantered around on the nice footing with space to travel, we had a good 15-minute walk before and after and I did his stretches.
I thought to myself driving home with the float… yes were on our way to improving!
The next morning I cried, Denny was intermittently lame in the walk. I gave him breakfast and noticed he was really stiff in his left hind and didn’t want to push off it. I rang the vet, I range Jess from Equestricare and felt so guilty that I had done this and caused him an injury. There was no heat, no reaction to palpating the area and no swelling. We came to the conclusion that he was stiff from overusing the muscle. His stifle area is weak and it has a great deal to do with his conformation and that left hind that’s cow hocked. Things being not quite in line means there is abnormal pressure and wear and tear. So even though I thought I was doing the right thing for my horse, I had in fact done way too much for where he was at in his strength.
When I thought about it, it was like me going to the gym to do a new exercise class that my muscles aren’t used to. The next day I will be sore, especially if I don’t start out slow and increase over time. So Den had a day off, some massage and red light, a nice long walk in hand for the following two days and he was back to his normal self. I then started again because this area does need strengthening, I started slower with less distance and less time cantering. I added in some in hand backing up and hand walking some hills with some canter pole work on the lunge.
I would like to stress here that Denny did still get a little sore and still does, it’s ongoing and were still getting there with his canter strength. It takes months, in fact around 12 weeks. He is having a regular massage and we are working through any muscle stiffness that comes from building strength, this is completely normal. The stifle which was where Denny was stiff and sore is a complex area with three joints, menisci, fibrocartilage and ligaments. What he overworked, we will never exactly know but it hasn’t happened again since.
The take home message I want to share with you all is that no matter the level you compete or your riding ability, all horses are athletes and have areas to work on strengthening just like we do as riders. Soreness is inevitable, it’s how we manage this as owners.
Despite our slow start to strengthening the canter, we still competed at WAYER and had a fantastic time. Not sure exactly where I came, was about 15th I think. We had fun and I was out doing what I loved. We cantered, we got the correct lead both times, it wasn’t collected, was a little rushed and we only got a 5. But it’s a start and next time at Wooroloo I’m aiming for a 6. Our trot work was sensational though!
Till next time, get your horse massaged and have a think about where they might need some extra care.