Beef up your flatwork. Begin by making sure your horse"s hind end is always "in gear" when you work on the flat. Use whatever incentive is necessary - from a squeeze with your calves to a tap of a whip - to encourage him to move forward with energy and carry himself on his hindquarters at the trot and canter. When he"s moving forward, begin to put him on the bit and supple him. To even out his suppleness, always spend more time working his stiffer side. If he"s harder to bend to the left than to the right, for example (probably from the same weakness that causes him to lie on his side), work him more to the left. With both there strategies, start slowly and build the time and effort you ask for gradually, allowing your horse"s weak areas to adapt to the new demands.
Head for the hills. If possible, incorporate hill work into your regular conditioning program. Start with ten minutes walking up and down gentle slopes and gradually build to fifteen to twenty minutes in equal amounts of walk and trot, eventually incorporating steeper climbs. Going up and down hills, always assume a two-point position (your seat out of the saddle) to free his back - and be careful with downhill work, which can be hard on horses with stifle problems. (If you suspect your horse"s stifles at all, check with your veterinarian before starting hill work.)
As with any new fitness program (think of your own experiences with running, weight training,or aerobics), use common sense. Take it easy in the beginning, and alternate days to give challenged muscles a chance to repair and grow between workouts. But don"t be sporadic; any strengthening program must be regular and ongoing to have a beneficial effect.
This article is an excerpt from Louise"s "No More Lying on His Side" in Practical Horseman, June 1997. See "On-Course Saves" in the February 2002 issue of Practical Horseman for more tips. .