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Archive for Horse Training

Are you having problems with your arena?

Presented by Larissa W. Cox, M.Sc. Applied Equine Science with permission from Springride Surfaces

Believe it or not, summer is coming and you will be riding!  However, if you look at your arena now, it’s looking a little sad.  You know you have to do something about it, but you don’t know what. 

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Sand draining well but needs added spring.

So, your arena looks okay and the drainage is good but it needs that added spring.  According to Springride, UK manufacturers of Equestrian surfaces,  prepare your sand by levelling and rolling and then lay 25mm rubber and fibre composite chip on top at a rate of one tonne per 40sqm.  If you buy Springride’s premium chip, it comes in bags, so you can position them evenly on your arena, split or tip the bags and spread to an even depth.  Take care to ensure the sand is completely level, you don’t want to lay the rubber in tracks or pits.  Once laying is complete, level and roll daily until settled.

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How much do you need?  Springride delivers their product in 1 tonne bags, so if you have a 20m x 20m arena, the suggested requirement is 10 tonnes (10 bags).  20m x 40m = 20 tonnes; 20m x 60m = 30 tonnes.

Deep riding sand

According to Springride, this is one of the most common problems and generally occurs as a result of over engineered drainage and/or the wrong sand.  You need to source a fine to medium, angular silica sand and lay to a depth of 100mm if topping with a rubber surface.  Springride offers a great product called Springride Shred which is a blend of specifically shaped and uniquely patterned rubber that anchors into the sand layer to create a stable surface.  This product reduces maintenance, provides great cushioning and spring with minimal kick back.  It has great drainage properties and reduces dust, retaining moisture in dry months.

Is your indoor dry and dusty?

This is a very common problem with indoor arenas even with a sprinkler system in place.  Prepare your sand by levelling and rolling.  It is very helpful to thoroughly wet the sand prior to laying a top dressing.  Springride has a innovative product called Shredtex which is a blend of rubber strips and rubber backed with textile.  This helps retain moisture and provides a soft but secure footing.  Lay this blend of rubber and textiles on a 75 – 100mm sand base and roll as often as possible in the first few weeks.  You’ll be amazed at the difference.

Springride products are available for delivery across the UK and Europe.  Sorry folks, this product is not available in North America.

Winter Training Tips

Wow, it’s cold outside.  There is snow on the ground and ice on the roads.  We are certainly feeling Mother Winter and when the temperature drops, we prefer to stay inside where it’s warm and cozy and sometimes postpone the fitness of our horses. 

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I find winter to be the worst time to work my horse.  Outdoor area footing is bad, it’s dark with the limited daylight and generally the weather is awful.  It can be rather daunting to not work your horse at all for the entire winter and then get on him in the spring after 4-5 months off!  Not only is it hard on you, but it is also hard on your horse.  Younger horses tend to forget more over the winter months and older horses that tend to get stiff will take longer to get in shape once the spring comes.  Doing a few simple routines during the cold, winter months, will prepare you horse for the warmer weather riding.

Unless you are the lucky ones that have access to an indoor arena, you’ll be forced to work outside and at the mercy of the shorter days and weather. Most ground work exercises that can be performed in dry conditions can be performed in the snow. Pick some exercises that doesn’t require the horse to move out, such as backing or moving a hip.  Seriously…you can’t overdo these kinds of exercises and in reality most of us stop doing them before the horse responds really well.  If the weather is really miserable, you can always use the isle of the barn to practice your groundwork.  Your horse should be able to understand basic cues such as go forward, soften his neck, move his shoulders over, move his hops over, disengage his hips, pick up his feet and drop his head.  These exercises can all be worked on in a closed barn or even in the stall.  Come April, you’ll be amazed how much better your horse will be.

Riding in snow up to a depth of 2 feet offers excellent resistance training and as a bonus, the snow and cold decreases inflammation in the joints and tendons.  When riding in the snow, remember that it is harder work for your horse, so adjust the workload accordingly.

Plan to work at a slower pace so your horse doesn’t sweat as much as cooling down will take much longer.  If your horse is used to being stables or is blanketed, consider using a quarter sheet to keep his muscles from getting chilled while riding.

Dress yourself in layers that can be removed easily if you get worm while riding.  Don’t forget to wear warmer boots during the winter.

If snowballs form in the hooves while you ride, coat the bottom of the hooves with petroleum jelly.  A frosty cold bit can be really uncomfortable for your horse, so warm the bit before putting it in your horse’s mouth.  I use the Bit Blanket as it’s a great tool for warming a bit in a cold barn.

Hello Weekend: Which Lungeing Aid Would Benefit Your Horse?

Presented by:  Larissa W. Cox, M.Sc. Applied Equine Science

Okay, it’s now cold outside and many of us really don’t feel like riding.  But did you know that lungeing is a time-saving workout that can be done during the off-season or when you can only grab a short respite between downpours.

According to  The Equine Therapy Centre at Hartpury College in Gloucester, England, this  is only true if you are lungeing your horse correctly and in an aid that is  appropriate to his level of training, his conformation and way of going.   Just because you’ve heard of a system, or a friend uses it, doesn’t mean that you should run out and buy it.  Find out what different lungeing aids can do for your horse, where to buy  them and how much they cost before making that buying decision.

The Pessoa Lungeing System

Pessoa
Manufacturer’s  claim: creates a fluid contact. Its sympathetic ropes and pulleys  encourage the horse to use the correct muscles and to work in the perfect  shape.
I must admit that I use it to
 limit extension of the  hind leg, lower the head and neck if placed low, or compress the neck if set  higher.

EquiAmi 
Manufacturer’s  claim: helps the horse to step under from behind, using his back and  lifting his shoulders, working into a soft, equal contact.  
Again, I own this system and I use it to limit extension of hind limb and lower head and  neck.  The EquiAmi comes with a How-To DVD and it is recommended to watch the video before use.
Bungee reins/side  reins
Bungee reins and side reins are widely available and used to:  lower head and neck and inhibit forward movement of the head.

Side  reins to: depending on placement, encourage lowering of head and neck or simply restrict movement to aid control.

CONDITIONING YOUR AGING HORSE

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.

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Crystalz Jubruq (Bruq) is a 20 year old Arabian still competing in Dressage. Now my Mom’s partner.

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.

CONDITIONING YOUR HORSE FOR COMPETITION

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!stressed

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.

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Phantom CF, 16.1 h, 9 year old Oldenburg currently active in conditioning program.

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.

Rotario, 17.3h, 10 year old Hanovarian

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.

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Crystal Jubruq, 15.1 h, 20 year old Arabian, 4th Level Dressage

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.

My thoughts on exercise!

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 .

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Have fun…Larissa.

Hot Horse Exercise #8

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.

Longway Serpentine where at “X” you’ll ask for something to be performed.

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!