1.Cross Train your horse
Professional athletes train in a variety of activities to condition every area of their body. Your horse requires the same attention to ensure the body is conditioned as a whole, rather than some structures receiving more training than others. The body should be considered as a complete unit, with every individual component being prepared to do its job. This is only achieved through variety such as pole work, hacking, hill work, etc. This work must be functional and be sprinkled throughout your training.
2.Don’t leave it too long between shoeing
a) At the end of the shoeing cycle, and particularly when this reaches above 6 weeks, the increased length of toe changes the hoof/pastern angle. If this changes by as little as 1 degree, the increase of pressure of the DDFT (deep digital flexor tendon) on the Navicular bone goes up by 4%. Pressure and friction result in inflammation, damage and pain.
b) When shoeing has been left ‘as long as possible’, changing a longer toe back to a more correct angle can affect the horses’ movement and co-ordination initially.
To avoid problems, it is best to keep them on a cycle that prevents any pronounced changes in hoof shape.
Your training and conditioning should be tailored to the stage of development your horse is at. It should also be relevant to your horses’ (and your own) abilities and limitations.
4.Warm up and cool down;
A 20 minute warm up; ten min walk, some trot and canter in a stretched frame will increase the body temperature and improve oxygen delivery to muscles. It allows tendons to become more elastic, thus enabling their ‘stretch’ facility. Studies have shown that warm soft tissues cope with higher levels of load than cold ones.
Be mindful of the environment you are in; cooler climates will require a longer warm up to raise the body temperature. Conversely, if you are riding in a warmer environment, the temperature of the horses’ body will be higher before you even start work, so be mindful of how much is needed.
5.Manage the surface you train on
Whatever the reality is for the surface you have available to you, the key is to keep the footing consistent and level. Surfaces are a minefield of exploration, and there is plenty of research happening that will guide us on the best options, but for the sake of real life, keeping the surface consistent will be the best thing you can do.
If you want to wade through a scientific paper on the recent FEI research into surfaces check out the link below:
6.Consistency is key
People with an office job for 5 days a week suffer injuries when they are let loose at the weekend and think they are Tarzan, it is just as true for horses who are ridden once or twice a week with an owner who expects them to be ‘on form’. Winter is a killer, I get it, so just play down your expectations and understand that 2 days a week is not training, or hibernate and come out when the weather allows you to have more time in the saddle.
7.Condition, Condition, Condition
If your horse has had any time off, it will need to be slowly conditioned back into work. 3 months off means at least 3 months of long, slow (yes boring) work to prevent re-injury and to aid recovery. You have to make like a tortoise in this situation if you want to end up on top.
Hosing and icing legs after work is a great preventative measure to help sort out any micro traumas in the soft tissues of the lower limb.
9.Invest in YOU
An unbalanced rider will affect how the horse has to load his limbs; creating an imbalance of weight-bearing and therefore increasing the likelihood of lameness/injury.
Imagine yourself as the mast of the ship; the mast moves the most and impacts how the ship balances itself underneath. What you do in the saddle will have a direct impact on how your horse can operate.
Work off-horse will help you sit in more balance on your horse, and this may well help to reduce the chance of lameness.
10.Keep Exercise Functional
Be prudent when deciding what extra-curricular activities you think your horse should do; keep work functional. If it doesn’t ADD value to your horses’ development it is either a waste of time, or damaging.
For example; swimming might be fine if you are going through rehab and you need to take the weight off the skeleton, but if you are wanting to condition your horse to be fit for eventing for example, working across the ground is more functional.