Conditioning Averts Injuries

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Horsemen all too often spend a great deal of time and money restoring their horses to soundness after injuries. Unfortunately, they don’t spend enough time doing the conditioning that may prevent the injuries in the first place.

Tired horses are much more likely to get hurt than fit horses. But in the heat of competition we don’t always recognize when our horse may be tired past the point of safety. This point also can be reached at a weekend clinic or even a Sunday two-hour trail ride if the horse wasn’t ridden during the previous week.

An injury caused by a misstep when a horse is over-tired often doesn’t show up right away. The horse that is a little bit stiff on Monday, with a leg that is a little more full or hot than it should be, may be limping with a pull or tear by the end of the week.

It usually isn’t the horses involved in high-stress fields that get hurt this way. Three-day eventers and endurance riders, for example, know that they can’t win if they don’t put in daily hours of hills and trails. Often the horse that isn’t fit to continue is the one that’s been asked to jump three rounds or do three pleasure classes or two training-level dressage tests. This horse may get ridden three times a week for a half hour or less, much of it spent standing and talking to friends. Or he may not be worked while his owner is out of town for a couple of weeks and then is sent to a show a week later.

We don’t have a lot of patience with someone who says his horse knows his job and doesn’t need mileage between shows. This same horse may be stiff on Monday, but with turnout and light longeing, he’s OK for another show the next weekend. He also has a career that lasts a couple of years, and then he’s living on bute or needles if he’s going to be ridden at all.

Of course, well-trained horses don’t need miles of pounding. But an organized plan of flatwork, hacking and trotting poles, plus longeing and turnout, will keep the horse in better condition to do his job and greatly increase his useful life.

And we don’t have any patience for those with so little planning that they’re neglecting warm-up and cool down. They’re trotting before they’ve walked halfway around the ring and jumping a couple minutes later. Then they’re off the horse a few minutes after the last fence.

If you’ve handed your horse over to a trainer, it makes sense to check that your horse gets the time he needs out of the stall to stay sound. An hour a day on a hot walker or 15 minutes of longeing isn’t going to do it. If the trainer doesn’t have time to condition, then he should have assistants to help with warm-ups, cool-downs and hacking, or maybe you can help with this work.

Conditioning doesn’t cost money the same way paying vet fees or buying joint supplements does. It costs time, though, and time is money, too. But, what’s more expensive, spending an hour each day riding your horse or spending weeks, months or even years not riding and showing your horse because he’s hurt' What’s the better value, a horse that can be useful into his 20s because he’s been kept fit and supple through daily riding, or the weekend warrior whose career is over by the time he’s 10'

’Til Next Month,

-Margaret Freeman