Archive for Horse Training
Several readers have contacted me regarding the re-conditioning of their older horses. If 60 is the new 40 for riders, then 20 is the new 15 for their horses! .
Just as for the human senior population, there are many benefits exercise can provide forour aging equestrian partners. Fit horses are less obese and less prone to develop related metabolic issues. Not only can regular exercise prevent many health issues in older horses, but it can also aid in the management of conditions they may already have. For example, exercise can help horses with arthritis. The key is, however, to get the right balance in finding the level of activity that gets your horse fit, but doesn’t cause any other problems.
How long a horse can keep going depends on so many factors, but many suggest that the limit for serious athletic activity is 25.
The conditioning program for horses over the age of 15 differs from younger horses in time frame and pace. However, before putting any older horse back to work, make sure that your horse is physically able to get back into shape. Perhaps checking with your veterinarian would be appropriate before you start developing that fitness plan. Your fitness program starts with lots and lots and lots of walk. Walk everywhere, on the trail, in the arena, up and down the driveway, just anywhere. If your horse is out of shape, you may need several weeks of walking before you actually start on light trot work. Increase either the distance or speed of a workout as your horse progresses, but do not increase both concepts at the same time. The concept of conditioning for any equine athlete occurs when tissues are stressed then given time to recover as stronger, fitter structures. If sufficient time isn’t provided, then injury can occur. With the older horse, longer downtime is very important for recovery. For example, your horse may need two days off after a hard ride whereas a younger horse may only need one. Remember, that your horse’s tissues are older and you need to be much more conservative.
Arthritis is the most likely condition that will limit your horse’s activity later in life, but it can usually be managed. You can certainly exercise your horse with mild arthritis, but cannot push him as you’ll only accelerate his decline. How much work a mildly arthritic horse can do varies on how he feels on any particular day. It is very important to be observant of your horse. Is he a little stiff or is he really having trouble? Pay close attention to your horse and you’ll be able to answer this question.
Any injuries your horse sustained as a youngster will need to be taken into consideration before you embark on the fitness program. When working with your older horse, please be realistic in terms of goals. Even if your horse is fit and active, he may not be able to keep up with his younger peers and probably not be able to perform as he used to, but there are 20-year old horses holding their own in very high-level competitions. Your older horse is not burdened by looking back on his youth wanting to prove that he can still jump big fences. He is content with the well being that fitness alone can bring. It is a great tribute that the older horse can go out and do what younger ones can. They love what they do and the worse thing you can do is take that away from them.
So here are some tips to get your older horse fit:
- Consult with your vet prior to starting any fitness program.
- Proceed SLOWLY, allowing a longer time frame to achieve the fitness goal.
- Let your horse guide you day to day as to how he is feeling. Be gentle on him when he is feeling his age.
- Give him ample recover time and be prepared to double the downtime.
- Respond quickly to any signs of trouble.
- Keep a daily record on how you are progressing and how your horse is feeling to see if there are any traits that can be learned.
- Feed for the older horse should include a higher amount of protein to provide amino acids for better muscular and tissue growth.
Now that spring is around the corner, some of you may be considering showing. As horse owners, there is an important question you must ask yourself: What discipline is your horse physically and mentally suited. We all love our horses dearly, but truthfully, is he suited to what we really want to do? To answer the question, we must first determine if your horse will require speed, collection, or a combination of speed, collection and skill to properly execute the chosen tasks of the equestrian discipline. In addition to the physical demands, you must be honest and look at your horse’s mental and emotional state to see if he can perform these tasks. I have an amazing Hanoverian, who is both physically suitable for dressage and is most athletic, but unfortunately, he doesn’t have the mental capacity to even walk into the show ring, so why put him through the rigours of training if he will have a mental collapse looking at the judge!
Once you have decided on what discipline you want to pursue with your equine partner, you now must create an individualized training program, “conditioning training” tailored specifically to your horse.
Conditioning training consists of three basic stages, that being the initial stage, the developmental stage and then the maintenance stage. The length of time it will take your horse to get to peak performance condition depends on many variables, such as your horse’s breed, genetic disposition, age, mental state and the demands of the discipline you have chosen for your horse.
No matter the equestrian discipline, research has shown that initial training should begin with long slow distance training (also known as LSD) which gradually increases your horses physical exertion. Working your horse over a large variety of terrain (hills, flat, water), if possible, provides the excellent groundwork for your equine athlete. The objective of this stage is to increase the exercise from a walk and trot averaging 4-5 mph to a canter of 10-12 mph. Not only will your horse’s cardiovascular system be strengthened, it will also increase the durability and elasticity of the muscoskeletal system thereby reducing the chance of future injury.
The second stage of conditioning focuses on the aspects that are important in your chosen discipline. This stage in the conditioning program focuses on the coordination, balance and skill of your athlete in that equestrian field. Whether it be reining, hunter/jumper, dressage, or racing, initially all these exercises within this field will be done at half the rate of duration of what is expected during the actual event. But once your horse has developed the sufficient skill and coordination, you’ll be able to put your horse through strenuous workouts which will then target the specific muscle groups required in that discipline.
Most trainers suggest a 5-day week training program where the horse is ridden at an aerobic level on days 1 and 5 and then on days 2, 3 and 4 more intense exercise is added to the regular workout routine to increase the physical demand. The horse is at rest for 2 days.
However, another newer, non-typical approach is interval training which consists of a 6-day week workout applying the concept of “overload” which is to exercise your horse to the point nearing fatigue. Just as the traditional training program, this new approach puts your horse through an aerobic exercise on days 1 and 4 followed by intense workouts on days 2 and 5 and on days 3 and 6 horses are ridden very lightly for a very short period of time of about 15 minutes. The horse is at complete rest for one day.
During the intense workout days (2 and 5), your horse must be closely watched and monitored as this workout ends just as your horse’s heart rate elevates over previously recorded times, which is considered to be the verge of fatigue.
What is very important, no matter what method you use you must watch how your horse responds to both the physical and mental training and this will determine whether his workload should be increased, decreased or maintained at the current level.
How do you know when to increase to the next phase of training? To determine this, you really must monitor your horse’s heart rate. You need to know your horse’s normal resting rate and be aware of the length of time it takes for your horse to recover to a normal rate following exercise. As a rule of thumb, your horse would be ready to move on to the next stage of development when he has a solid heart rate recovery within 5 – 15 minutes following an hour of steady exertion, or when he can maintain a heart rate of under 150 beats per minute at a long gallop.
However, as an owner, you MUST be able to recognize the signs of stress and fatigue. If your horse’s pulse recovery rate is longer than 15 minutes, your horse was put through too much of a challenge than he was physically able and MUST be brought back down to a lower level of exercise. At any time if there is a sudden increase in heart rate, it can be suggested that your horse is in pain and must be checked for injuries before you continue with further training. Signs of stress can include but not limited to changes in gait, irritability, weight loss, attitude dullness, a decrease in appetite or lower leg edema.
Keeping your horse in peak condition for the entire length of the show season can be difficult and time consuming, but you can maintain that condition by bringing your horse to, or just under, their peak then tapering the length of exercise by half (holding pattern). Just prior to the event, your horse can rest. Following the competition, your horse should be allowed time to recuperate before bringing him back into an exercise routine by taking him to near peak condition again and then to that holding pattern before the next event. Please be aware that for any amount of rest time given will require an equal amount of reconditioning time for your horse to ready for competition.
Not only must you be aware of the physical demands placed on your horse, but mental preparation is just as important to any conditioning program. A ring sour horse may signal discomfort or an issue with the conditioning program and training must be addressed. The mood or attitude of your horse is an excellent gauge to how your horse is handling the stress of training. Look for the signs: ears pinned back, tossing of the head, swishing of the tail, difficulty in catching your horse. These are all signs that show you that something is wrong. It is extremely important that your horse be evaluated as an individual throughout the training process. Not only must you be able to produce a physically fit athlete, but one that is mentally and psychologically prepared for competition. If you are wanting to compete throughout the lengthy show season, you’ll need a horse that is ready and willing to complete along side you and you must incorporate a well laid out and thoughtful conditioning program which will FULLY prepare your horse for the rigours of competition.
For more information on developing the equine athlete, contact Larissa Cox, MSc. Applied Equine Science via Tack and Talk.
Time for a few words and my thoughts on exercise and your horse. I have seen far too many riders, who think that they are training their horses properly but in reality actually doing a great disservice to their horse. Carrying a rider is a very unnatural activity for your horse and you really want to ensure that he is physically capable of carrying you comfortably and in balance. Be warned that without proper conditioning, your horse is not naturally able to do so without damaging his anatomy! No matter what discipline you ride, be it dressage, evening, trail, hunter/jumper or western pleasure, you must create the physical foundation to keep your horse sound and healthy. Exercises that strengthen your horse’s muscles not only promote flexibility but will result in less injury and less strain on tendon and ligaments and your horse will be able to perform the task requested.
It is very important to warm up your horse before exercise by giving him enough time to warm up those muscles. What is a warm up? It can be described as transitioning the body from a resting state to a state suitable for activity as the muscles must .
- Trot over Ground Poles: Always start at a walk during a newly introduced exercise. Your ground poles, depending on the size of your horse and length of stride, should be about 5 feet apart. Start with 3 poles on the ground working your way up to 5. When trotting over the ground poles, move into a two point seat to make it easier for your horse to round his back and move freely over the poles. Make sure you give your horse enough rein to enable him to stretch his neck while trotting over the poles as this will encourage rounding his back and it will therefore, strengthen his abdominal muscles. Your horse will not only learn to pick up his feet, but also stay in a rhythm. A very good book that I read often is Cavaletti: The Schooling of Horse and Rider over Ground Poles by Reiner Klimke.
- Once your horse has mastered the ground pole, introduce a small jump…a Cavaletti. Your horse will strengthen his abductors and will engage his abdominal muscles which will help support his back.
- Transitions and more transitions to encourage your horse to bring his hind end under and carry himself better and rounder. Pay attention to the quality of transition and to your balance and riding technique to encourage the perfect transition. If you are heavy on the hand, this often will have the adverse effect of either the horse being hollow and lifting his head during downward transitions. Ride with a light hand and with your seat and reward your horse by giving in, which is to take off the pressure. Don’t rush, stay relaxed and maintain a forward steady tempo.
- Lateral exercises strengthen and stretch muscles that are typically under-exercised which will help your horse develop the balance, coordination and round frame much desired. Be patient and set realistic goals remembering that too much lateral moving can sour your horse.
- Trail riding not only is enjoyable for you and your horse, but also cover so many aspects of equine physical fitness. Walking the trail in a long rein is a great way for your horse to use his two big neck muscles of each side to move the front leg forward. Keeping him on a long reing while being motivated to step forward will improve his range of motion, relax his neck and poll and strengthen his shoulders, all done while the horse is relaxed and interested in his surrondings. Walk up hills slowly and don’t allow your horse’s desire to rush up which is easier for your horse. By walking up a hill slowly, your horse’s hind end will strengthen and you will be encouraging him to step under himself and round his back. Stay in a light seat or even a two point seat when trotting down light slopes to encourage your horse to round his back. Canter your horse for 10 – 15 minutes at a time as this is the best exercise to strengthen your horse’s back in addition to a great cardio workout! Work up slowly at first as this requires a high level of fitness on your part – the rider!
No matter how many years you have ridden or will ride, training never stops. Keep it interesting and diverse with your horse’s best interest in mind.
Another serpentine option, which I really enjoy is the Longway Serpentine. This horse keeps your horse focused on you and your cues, as at X, you’ll ask him to do something different.
Make a serpentine the length of the arena rather than across the arena width. At X, so something different, for example, stop, backup-up, leg yield or cue a lead change. You can ask whatever you want. Then continue down the remainder of the centerline, turning back up the rail in the opposite direction. This exercise will make you work to keep your horse straight down the center of the arena before and after your special maneuver at X while he’ll be listening to your cues.
This exercise will enhance your horse’s bending and straightness skills, while maintaining his focus on you and your cues.
At first keep this exercise simple by stopping at X or changing your horse’s gait at X. Try adding a pylon at the center for your visual cue. Make this exercise more challenging by varying your speed and performing lead changes at the arena’s center line, or preparing a different maneuver to keep your horse guessing at what you’ll be asking him to do!
We are now progressing into an exercise that forces you to focus on each new turning point, changing your rein and leg cues at each change in direction. This exercise really sharpens your horse bending and listening skills.
The goal of this exercise is for your horse to improve his lightness and flexibility as he bends and changes direction and he must listen to your cues. Try to make each loop the same size and shape. Initially, keep it simple by making two or three loops, but increase the difficulty by adding more loops, to perhaps four or five narrower loops. Try to keep the shape of the loop the same at each loop.
This exercise is very challenging at the canter where you must repeatedly change leads on each straight line, or ask your horse to counter-canter around every other loop. A great challenge for the hot horse. Your horse will need focus listen to your cues for this exercise to be performed correctly.
Hello again to Hot Horse Exercises. This exercise, the Half 10m Circle with Halt is an excellent exercise to use all your aids, rein seat and legs.
Half 10m Circle with Centre Halt
Start this exercise at M at a working trot. At S, ride half a 10 metre circle and at the centre line walk your horse for two strides and then halt facing C for five seconds. Your horse should be still and not anticipate moving forward. When calm continue riding the next 10 metre circle, finishing your half circle at R. Ride your working trot down the long side and at B repeat the two half circle patterns. Remember to do an equal number of right and left rein bends.
This is a great exercise as you must prepare for the transition from trot to walk before you get to the centre line. You’ll have to prepare your body core for the downward transitions before applying your regulating rein. Your horse must listen to all of your aids.
Remember that your inside rein flexes your horse while the outside rein is one of support. You’ll need to increase your weight on your inside seat bone to also prepare for the corners while keeping weight on your inside leg as it remains at the girth. Your outside leg will be behind the girth.
Your horse will need to listen to the Half Halt during this exercise. If you cannot ride this exercise in trot, ride it in a walk to get control and then at a walk. Or, vary each half circle. Ride one half at a trot while the other at a walk. The aim of this exercise is to have the horse listen to your aids, maintain rhythmn and maintain the bend at each circle.
Hello to another article on Hot Horse Exercises. This exercise will teach you how to consistently ride a perfect circle of any size, anywhere even out in the field without the aids of walls or fences and have your horse listen to your aids!
THE PERFECT CIRCLE
It is very surprising how many people who think they ride a good circle actually don’t, so we must know the definition of an inaccurate circle, which is one that is not forward and on the aids. It is one where every stride is different, perhaps a different tempo or a it can also be a different bend. A perfect circle is very easy for your horse to maintain his balance and regularity and by teaching your horse the perfect circle, he will actually start listening to you.
Every stride of your circle should be as close to the previous stride and as close to the one after it in order for it to be “perfect.” A circle, also, needs to be a circle!
This is an excellent exercise for you and your horse. Start by walking your circle at a walk on a loose rein only using your legs and seat to steer. You can ride any size circle between 10 and 20 meters. Leave the track at E and return to E and count the strides out loud of the inside hind leg. Your count should sound much like a metronome, each stride should have regularity. Is your tempo the same on all the strides? Harder to ride than it seems, doesn’t it?
If the first half of your circle has more strides than the second half, your horse is rushing back to the wall at E and falling in on your inside aids. If the first half has less strides than the second half, then your horse is falling out the shoulder and is drifting larger. Ride the circle again, counting and comparing both halves of the circle.
Imagine that there are 4 points to your circle with each quarter being the same size. Think of each quarter section being 6 strides. As you ride your 24 stride circle pay attention to where your 6th, 12th, 18th and 24th stride fall. Are they at the quarter point, halfway, three-quarter and finally at the letter E? If not, keep riding it paying attention to where your horse either falls in or falls out.
Now that you have an accurate 24 stride circle, change the size to a 16 stride circle, 4 segments of 4 strides each. Use more outside aids for the first quarter and more inside aids for the last quarter. If you think of the circle in terms of the number of strides instead of circle size and ride an equal number of strides in each quarter of your circle paying attention to the regularity of your circle, you will ride the perfect circle. In addition, your hot horse will be listening to you at all times!
Now go and ride that circle!
Hi and welcome back to Hot Horse Exercises. Hope you enjoy this Loopy “B” Exercise. Feel free to send me a comment as I’d love to hear from you.
THE LOOPY “B” EXERCISE
Start this exercise at the walk. Walk down the long side, turning at the corner as if to make a circle, but instead angle back to the rail. Go straight for a stride or two at the rail and then angle back out and circle around towards your starting point. This exercise is ideal for the hot horse and it improves on the bending and straightening of your horse while prompting your horse to “listen” rather than to assume he’s to make a full circle. When riding this exercise, try and make each end of the loops the same size and shape. This is an excellent exercise for your hot horse!
Keep this exercise simple by riding it in the walk or trot. It can be made more challenging by riding it in the canter at the counter-canter or changing leads on the straight line in the center. Remember to use your outside leg and rein to move your horse laterally back to the rail in a forward and sideways movement.
Hello and welcome back to our Hot Horse Exercise Post. Here is another excellent exercise to teach your hot horse a simple but valuable lesson: To ride without using the support of the rail.
Off The Rail Rectangle
Rather than staying directly on the rail or arena wall, ride a parallel path about 10 feet to the inside of the arena wall. In using this technique, it teaches you to keep your horse straight between the reins as you have no rail to guide or support you or your horse. Riding off the rail also teaches your horse to listen to your cues rather than just coasting along the rail and doing whatever he wants.
To be successful in this exercise, start at a walk, then move along to the other gaits. You can make it more challenging by varying your speed along the straightaways and collecting at the short end. This will teach your horse to increase/decrease his speed without excitement and also will help develop this muscles he needs for future collection work.
Welcome to Hot Horse Exercise Post. Here is another excellent exercise to teach your hot horse a simple but valuable lesson: to move sideways away from leg pressure. The leg yield is one of the earliest and most fundamental exercises in the development of both horse and rider, but yet, often overlooked. Leg yielding enables your horse to move eagerly forward, but under control, through the influence of your leg aids so that your horse’s hind legs step forward to reach the hoof prints of the front legs. This fundamental exercise not only will help your horse with the leg aid, but will also improve your horse’s longitudinal and lateral flexibility.
Riding the leg yield to the right. To make it a littler easier we begin at the wall at the walk. The first thing we need before attempting the leg yield is a good, straight forward going walk. Ask your horse to flex by gently curling and uncurling your inside hand around the reins until the horse flexes. You have enough bend when you just see the eye and nostril, see picture above. Bring your left leg behind the girth and shift your weight to your right seat bone while keeping soft and supple at your waist. It is important to use the leg in the press-relax-press way, as a constant pressure will cause your horse to lean against your leg and not move away from it. To time your leg aid, you need to press when you feel your horse’s belly swing away from your inside leg. This is the point when your horse’s inside rear leg is coming underneath for his next step and it is the only point when you can influence the horse’s stride effectively. Keep the sideway steps small to prevent your horse from becoming tense, remember this exercise is to calm your hot horse!
Your outside rein is held against the neck but doesn’t do anything actively. Your horse will feel this outside rein against his neck and this will stop him from falling out through his shoulder.
Your outside leg doesn’t move from your normal riding position.
Points to remember when doing this lateral work is to give your horse frequent breaks. Ride him straight for a few minutes before returning to the leg yield. This helps your horse to relax and think about his balance while making it more fun for your horse. Also, remember to work equally on both reins.
Once you are happy with the leg yield at the walk, proceed to the trot and then to the canter. There are also several variations of this exercise that can be done, which will be shown in later posts.
Good luck with the yield!