Saddle fit… done!
And of course a new ‘matchy’ set for cross country this season… Done!
I want to write about bringing horses back into work. Or in my case, increasing the work load back ready to compete. It isn’t quiet as simple as saddle fits and teeth. Many of our horses are so stoic and willing we sometimes don’t notice they are struggling with the workload till they show muscle soreness, or even some intermittent lameness.
I know this first hand, being a body worker but also a human fitness trainer. I come across lots of sore horses and sore people and generally it has a great deal to do with increasing activity with limited preparation. I would have to say 95% of people that I come across that exercise, or attempt to exercise for fitness decide to just start one day. In most cases they feel so sore they don’t give it another go for at least a week. Who feels me?
Rewind back in time. Imagine you have for the first week done 10 minutes every second day, then your second week 20, then 30, and by week 4 you are full swing into your fitness training and you haven’t felt so sore you had to roll out of bed. Given many of us expect our own bodies to perform, it isn’t unusual for many riders to get back on after a spell and walk/trot and canter riding for more than thirty minutes.
Many people spell over summer and give themselves and their horses a lovely break. So coming back incrementally for both horse and rider is so important. Here is the link to a FREE foundation guide you can download and start preparing your core for more riding. If your core after a break is weak, then your seat is heavier and as a result your horse can end up with a sore back. Hollowing, reefing, late canter transitions, wrong canter leads and inconsistent contact can all be a sign your horse might be in discomfort.
I urge you all to spend $10 on Equistericares equine fitness guide here. It gives you a solid understanding of bringing a horse back into work. Spending $10 could avoid hundreds of dollars on bodywork from rushing the process. The basic principle is to start slow with walking for a short time and slow incrementally build up to longer time, then adding in trot and eventually canter.
The muscles in our and our horses body act like a suspension system, moving with the skeleton and absorbing the impact of movement. When these muscles are not strong enough for the movement we are doing, this creates wear and tear and concussion to joints. This is where the intermittent lameness I mentioned above comes into play. How many times have you tried something new at the gym or had a longer horse ride than normal and been semi-limping for an hour or the next day? This is exactly the same for our horses.
Each horse is individual with some more athletic than others, but the general rule is that it takes double the length of spell time to regain fitness. So you don’t rush your horses work load, set a weekly plan of what you will do and then you won’t be tempted to rush the jumping and canter work.
Denny my horse is a clydie brumby and stayed in consistent light work because the effort it takes to build up Denny’s strength and muscles being a heavier horse would take me at least 12 weeks. I find it easier to keep his body weight lower and a baseline level of fitness all-year-round the best way for him to stay healthy and sound. Time off for Denny is trail rides walking the trails around home, it might involve some beach trips and swims and walking in the sand, some in hand laterals and lunging and even having a play with join up. We take a break from arena work for his mind, however I keep the body still moving at a slower pace for a shorter time.
When I want to build back up I start incrementally increasing the length of my riders by 5 to 10 minutes each week and still break from the arena, starting with more trot for two weeks, then adding in canter when the trot work is strong again. I use the slow work as an opportunity to make sure my seat and leg aids are even. My favorite thing is to practice mobilising my hips in the saddle and flowing in the walk, that isn’t something I am naturally great at and need to be.
n general as a society we are busy and time poor. It can be tempting to skip corners and push through, but in the end it often ends with soreness, injuries and sometimes even more time off from lameness. Our horses are grazers and are built for lots of walking, just like us! So much recent literature talks about our bodies being hunter gatherers. This ultimately means if we want to start competing in triathlons we need to prepare and treat out bodies like we are athletes.
The same goes for our horses. I know how I would feel the next day if I came off holiday straight into a 5km run!
Denny and I are nearly ready for Capel, still slightly ‘plumpy’ athletes… but with 4 weeks to go I fit my white jodhpurs and we are working on our long distance canter work. I have been doing ‘Feb Fast’ as wine is my weakness and needed to reduce and Denny is loving ‘cough cough’ his Rhodes hay.
Wish me luck for Capel!
Jem & Den