Maintaining soundness while increasing fitness

If you compete in the hunter  ring, we’re probably in the same lesson/training program right now. Your coach is likely moving away from the highly-technical gymnastic exercises you worked on over the winter, and is instead focusing your lessons on hunter-style courses of eight fences. Eight big fences. My coach’s goal is to improve our fitness and fine tune our course work for our first sanctioned show of the season – Manitoba Hunter Jumper Association’s Victoria Day show.

I do a lot of “dry land training” outside of my riding time, so my muscles have easily adapted to the increased workload. My horse, on the other hand, just mucks around the pasture eating hay in between rides. Moe’s muscles are definitely feeling the effects of the strenuous lessons, and he’s giving me all the signs – wanting to stretch his nose to the ground while we’re riding, not moving forward off my leg and not switching leads cleanly during flying lead changes. It’s my duty as his owner to keep him comfortable and sound while bringing up his fitness level. When May 18 rolls around, we both need to be in top form.

Incorporate these care and training ideas into your barn time to keep your horse sound during spring training:

  1. Back it up, and back it up hard.
    If your horse suddenly appears hopping lame on one hind leg for no apparent reason, a muscle cramp may be the culprit. Horses often get tight in their hindquarters and hips when their workload suddenly increases. Did you know you can “reset” your horse’s haunches with a strong, powerful back up? Try to duplicate the butt drop & scoot you see reining horses perform. A shuffle backwards won’t do, so you’ll probably need to practice a hard back from the ground until your horse learns the drill.
  2. Round out your trot.
    Letting your horse trot with his nose poked out above the bit/vertical is one of the fastest ways to make him back sore. I know it burns, but use more leg and use it more often. Always strive for impulsion at the trot – use strong, steady leg pressure to create the energy from the hindquarters and a soft, restraining hand to get the horse on the bit. If you want to read more about getting your horse into a healthy frame, click here.
  3. Massage, stretch, repeat.
    Contact a registered equine massage therapist and book a session for your hard-working horse. Make sure you’re there to meet the masseuse, and ask him/her to show how to stretch your horse’s neck, front legs, hind legs and back. A good massage will help your horse release any tension he’s carrying, and regular stretching will keep that tension away.
  4. Take care of those legs.
    Watch for signs of muscle or joint pain in your horse’s legs, and have the right products on hand to treat them. Always use a good quality liniment after a hard workout. A few minutes of cold hosing (if the weather permits) can also do a world of good. If your horse’s legs look swollen or sore, don’t “wait and see” if it goes away – be proactive and try to alleviate any discomfort.

I want to hear your experiences with spring training. Have you ever encountered any soundness issues? How did you treat it and prevent it from returning?

2 thoughts on “Maintaining soundness while increasing fitness

  1. Pingback: Anatomy of a Hunter Round Part 3 - The Course | Thistle Ridge Equestrian Services

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