Top 10 tips for keeping your horse in tip top condition
Written by Michelle Woolrich
Keeping horses sound, progressing and in great physical and mental condition can be a very difficult task. Here are my top ten tips to help you toward this goal.
Good warm-up, cool down routine
Warm-up for your horse for approximately 20 minutes using just an active walk and a long relaxed canter,. Keep the reins loose and encourage them to work as long and low as possible, using leg yield and schooling figures no smaller than 15m for the first 10 minutes. When in canter keep your weight off their back slightly standing up in your stirrups, especially in the downwards transition. In the final 5 minutes gather up the contact, use active trot work, & smaller circles. Cool down for 10 minutes with an active walk on a long rein, leg yield, & tight circles to get the hind leg cross over to stretch the hamstrings.
After cool down, un-tack and carry out some basic stretches with your horse in a safe environment. Integrate them into other routines, they will make a big difference to you horses’ musculoskeletal well-being. As you take each boot off use a treat to get them to stretch as far back to that leg as possible. When you pick each foot out stretch the limb forwards and backwards always keeping it in line with the body. Never force or fight for a stretch just hold it until it relaxes then take it a little further. Never stretch a cold horse, their muscles must be warmed first either by exercise, solarium or massage. For more information see www.cheshireequinetherapy.co.uk.
If you don’t need it don’t use it
We often fall for fancy marketing and end up impulse buying faddy gadgets, bits, feeds or supplements that make unsubstantiated claims of changing our horses for the better. Do your research know what you are buying, what it contains, how it works and ask your self does your horse really need it? If not don’t buy it, just because everyone else on the yard is feeding it, riding in it etc. doesn’t mean that you should, it could do your horse more harm than good if he doesn’t actually need it. With regard to feed, look objectively at you horses’ body condition score, and workload. Calculate the feed ration he requires, if you need help all of the big feed companies have helpline numbers.
Keeping your horse in an environment that is as close to their natural habitat as possible is really important for both physical & psychological well-being. In the wild horses are roaming & eating for most of the day, try to replicate this. Turn out as much as possible even if they need to be on a paddock with very low grass for some of the time. If stabled for part of the day feed forage and hard feed on the floor rather than in hay-nets or door hanging buckets allowing them to stretch their back and neck muscles. Give them something to little and often to help prevent EGUS. They need to be able to stretch their legs either by being ridden, lunged, loose schooled or even just taken for a walk at least once per day.
Regular health checks
Regular checks with vets, farriers, dentists, physical therapists, etc. are highly recommended as they will be able to notice differences in your your horse that you may not be aware of. When you are seeing your horse every day small changes can easily go unnoticed as you don’t see the subtle small things build up slowly over time.
If you spot a problem with your horse no matter what it is, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem at the time get it sorted as soon as possible, as it can soon escalate to become a much larger more permanent problem.
Everyday is a school day, no matter how good a rider you are, or how good your horse is, there is always more to learn or more improvements that can be made. A good coach is invaluable to your performance & progress, to be your eyes on the ground to helping to work through problems, some of which you may not even be aware exist as a lot more can be seen from the ground by a trained eye. They can help improve performance, introduce new things, motivate you, help you set & achieve realistic goals. If money is tight, lessons don’t have to cost the earth. Try getting a teaching circle going on your yard, where once a month you all give & receive lesson and swap around each month so that you all get a lesson with a different person each time. It can be of massive benefit if you are open minded. Just because someone rides at a lower level than you does not mean they will not give give some really good constructive advice about your riding. When children teach you, they get you doing all of the things they hate doing such as no stirrups, standing up position etc. which we don’t do enough of but really helps, and their honest ‘say what they see’ approach is brilliant feedback.
Most of us never ride bareback, it was something we did as kids and very rarely do it now. It is really good for your horse, as even the best fitted saddle is going to restrict their body movement in some way, so they can work completely freely, but it is also good for you too. It helps to improve your posture, balance and core stability, it improves your feel for what exactly is going on underneath you, enables you to feel the smallest of changes in movement and pick up on any issues that may be developing a lot quicker. At least once every 3 weeks carry out your usual schooling, but bareback, walk, trot, schooling figures, canter if you feel confident enough. Use your bridle or a rope halter, use a neck strap if you wish.
Does everything fit?
Horses change shape so much throughout the year and because it happens gradually over time owners sometimes don’t notice that their saddle isn’t quite fitting correctly, or their rug is now very tight across the chest, or the leather on their bridle is stretched so now the bit is too low in the mouth. Take the time to check everything and alter if required to ensure that everything is of perfect fit. It doesn’t take long for an incorrectly fitted item on your horse to start causing performance problems.
Look after yourself
Take care of your own physical well-being. If you have any musculoskeletal issues or postural insufficiencies this will affect the way you ride & will affect the way your horse moves causing them musculoskeletal problems. See a human physical therapist if you have any long term or acute pain, before it affects your horse, keep you own fitness level up, use a specific rider fitness training programme such as www.fit2ride.org.uk.