Conditioning Discussion 03/03/2012
Before you even begin thinking about how to condition your horse you must acknowledge the basic of your horses health:
-Teeth, jaw and mouth professionally floated every 6-12 months
-Level biting and chewing surface, no lesions or abscesses causing pain or inflammation
-No sharp hooks or edges, no chipped or broken teeth, no dead teeth which need removing
-clean smelling breath
-Health and circulation can pass from head to tail, foot to hear and throughout spinal system
-Chiropractor on a regular basis (a few times per year)
-A girthy horse may have a rib out, if your horse is girthy call a chiropractor (Dr. Kyla Awes!) Horse’s ribs move and can easily dislodge which causes discomfort and sever pain under the saddle.
-Ribs and vertebrae can easily be dislocated by just playing or rolling the field or stall
-Properly cared for feet
-Horses feet, depending on the season should be done anywhere from 4-8 weeks
-Make sure your vet and farrier are in communication about the needs for shoeing
-Keep an eye out for thrush or cracking and shrinkage
-Make sure your horse is getting good quality hay and a proper amount of grain depending on their weight and dietary needs
-The more work your horse has, the more food they will need
-Supplements are up to the individual owner, trainer, vet and farrier
-Free choice mineral and/or salt blocks
-Make sure your horse is worm free, doing a fecal sample for your veteriniarian will help you to create a de-worming program for your horse
-Regular vaccines depending on your area
-A proper baseline fitness in order to bring your horse into harder work
Once you have met all of the above requirements and have been working your horse on a regular basis you are able to begin to prepare for going to a show. Whether it a dressage show, eventing show, hunter/jumpers or any other discipline of your choosing – your horse needs to be in shape. You can build off of your current program – discuss a specific plan of action with a knowledgeable person like your trainer or your veterinarian before creating a program.
Depending on your schedule and how often you are able to ride, you will want to create a program suited to yours and your horse’s needs. For a horse preparing for an event at any lower level, I highly recommend riding at least 4 days a week. For horses competing at the training level or higher I recommend 6 days a week. Some horses may need more fitness training depending on their breed and some can even do two a day workouts.
When preparing for an upper level event, which requires more conditioning and fitness work, I schedule my “gallop” days every 5 days. Here would be an example schedule leading up to an event at the Intermediate level at the end of May.
-Throughout the winter – regular light work, walk/trot/canter, gymnastic work, small course work
-Starting March – back into full time work (5 days minimum) schooling harder dressage movements, longer rides, trot sets, and starting to do slow canter sets (3x3 canters).
-April – (6 days a week) Longer trot and canter sets (20 minute trots up to 3 times a week, 3x4 and 3x5 canters)
-May – Building to 3x6 canter/gallop sets, incorporating some short sprints, increasing trot sets to 30 minutes
When doing my trot sets in the indoor, I will incorporate those after a shorter dressage school, and as the weather gets better I may even do two rides a day, a dressage ride in the morning and a trot set in the evening.
Through April and May I would continue to do harder dressage schools and incorporate more jumping. Including exercises that may be seen at a horse show like triple combinations, bending lines, corners, skinnies and more. By incorporating these cross country questions into your show jumping school you are able to school the questions, without actually having to have the cross country fences.
Example 10 day schedule:
Day 1 – Dressage
Day 2 – Gallop sets (I always begin with trot work, at my level 20m to start)
Day 3 – Dressage & trot sets
Day 4 – Jump school
Day 5 – Day Off
Day 6 – Dressage & trot sets
Day 7 – Gallop sets
*Keep in mind you do not want to do gallop sets or jump schools back to back and before and after you do a gallop set you want to do some sort of schooling to loosen them up, even if you just get on and hack
Day 8 – Dressage & trot sets
Day 9 – Jump school
Day 10 – Day Off
This is what a typical program would look like for Hannah B. Of course take into account that sometimes you just can’t make it out to the barn, or you may not be showing at this level, you may have an emergency, lameness, too hard/soft to gallop, etc. The lower the levels the less time you have to spend conditioning, but you still must condition. Your “gallops” and trot sets will be shorter too.
It is important not to jump right into doing too much canter work. Trot work is the most important. It really helps to build up your horse’s endurance and strengthen their tendons. There are many theories out there on what the best way is to do it, but I think that trotting on either pavement or gravel is the best way to strengthen their tendons. This is more of the old school way because trotting on harder surfaces tends to cause more concussion on the horses joints. But trotting on softer surfaces tends to put more pressure on the horses tendons. You will adapt your own ways as you become more experienced.
Another important part of conditioning a horse is to know their TPR.
Take their TEMPERATURE when resting and after a hard workout.
Take their PULSE when resting and after a hard workout.
Take their RESPIRATION when resting and after a hard workout.
Cooling your horse down is just as important is the conditioning work itself. This is another good reason to know your horse’s resting TPR. Other signs to look for, that your horse is cooled out, breathing has returned to normal, no flairing of the nostrils and veins are no longer visible. Especially on a hot day after a hard conditioning workout like gallop sets, immediately get cold water on your horse. Their neck and inside their hind legs are great places to begin sponging/hosing because they have large veins in these areas. Just like an upper level horse after a cross country run, you need to get ice cold water on that horse as soon as possible. Granted you shouldn’t be working your horse to this extent, this is just an extreme.
Just as important as your cool down is your warm up. Always doing a 5-10 minute warm up no matter the work you are doing is important to get your horse’s blood flowing and heart rate up slowly. You wouldn’t hop right out of bed and go sprinting without warming up. Especially on your gallop days, you want to make sure to start out with a solid trot set. With Hannah her trot set warm up is 20 minutes before she does her gallops. Starting in the beginning you start with shorter times, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes and building until you are at the desired time for your horse’s required level of fitness.
So we spend all this time conditioning our horses but what kind of attention are we giving ourselves? I think it is just as important to condition yourself as it is your horse. If you expect your horse to be in top physical, mental and emotional condition you need to be as well. Being aware of your own physical fitness can be hard, especially at a younger age, well maybe even more at an older age! I just began working one on one with a personal trainer to begin to educate myself more about physical fitness and nutrition. Just like we study how much to feed our horses and when and what supplements they need and how much work they need – we must do the same. Make sure you stay physically active and eat healthy. Your parents or a personal trainer can help you come up with a fitness and nutrition plan for yourself. Also it is important to eat quality foods when doing harder work, at a horse show especially. Too much sugar and candy will make you crash, you want foods that will give you energy and keep you energized throughout the weekend. Electrolytes are a good way to replenish salts that you sweat out in your body as well. Same for the horses!