Although the weather in Georgia continues to frustrate me trying to get my horses fit for the upcoming show season, or in the case of the youngsters, ready for serious training, a concentrated effort to avoid injuries is a must.
This year I am showing an older horse, 14 yrs old, in some fairly serious NRHA competition. It is a balancing act between having him able to compete with the 5 and 6 yr olds, and keeping him sound. He has fused hocks and also can be stiff and sore from Osteoarthritis everywhere else! The best treatment for osteo is to keep the joints moving gently.
The aim with my youngsters is to have their still developing joints and muscles able to tolerate the extreme stresses reining puts on them, while advancing their training ready to compete, without causing damage that will lead to the problems my older horse suffers from.
I have developed a 6 steps program that helps both these categories, as well as any horse expected to compete seriously.
1. Feed and Supplements: Access your horse's body weight and start a program that will make sure he is not too fat or too thin.. Horses need muscle mass, and only an adequate feeding program designed around a good quality feed will accomplish this. I feed Nutrena's Safe Choice to everyone on the farm. It is a high fat (7%), moderate protein (14%) all in one feed that has all the vitamins and minerals needed. It has very low carbs which if too high can cause horses to 'heat up' temperament wise. The slightly greater costs is worth the peace of mind that they are getting everything they need and actually works out less expensive than feeding allot of low quality feed. I also add a small amount of a rice bran and flax seed supplement called Empower to boost fat content allowing for more slow release energy and endurance. It is most important to continually adjust the amount of feed depending on work level and condition. And I mean DAILY if necessary!
2. Other Vitamins and Supplements: Every horse on the place gets Electrolytes added to their feed summer and winter. In winter it keeps them drinking, in summer it keeps them from losing too much condition from sweating. I then access each horse's need for further supplementation. For instance the older guy gets a joint supplement to help his osteo. Another horse gets a mixture that controls his skin allergies. The show horses, or anyone under stress through illness, get pro- and prebiotics. I use Smart Packs, which make it easy to be sure every horse is getting exactly the right dose, and they auto ship so I never run out.
3. Start Slowly! I always estimate that it takes approximately six weeks to fitten the average horse ready for the show ring. If he is too fat or too thin it will take longer as his condition needs to be fixed first. You can't decide on Wednesday that you are going to show your horse on Saturday and expect to get away without a combination of poor performance and possible injury. The first week I concentrate on walking and long trotting, combined with flexing exercises. The second week I had some loping, about a half mile each way. By the 4th week I want to be able to lope at a fairly good rate of speed for 2 miles. I break it into a mile on each lead, with a 10 minute break between to allow the horse to get his air. Muscles need oxygen!
One way to measure this is drive the route you are taking and measure it, or if working in an arena get a human jogging meter that measures distance. I downloaded an app for my phone which tells speed and distance!
4. Be Consistent: It is no good riding only on Sat and Sunday and letting them sit in the field all week. With your work schedules it can be hard to get in the saddle this time of year during the week. Try to fix your schedule to allow a few minutes of conditioning work either early in the morning or evening. Set up some lights...a few outdoor lights at the top of plumbing pipe of 15-20 ft at each corner of your arena works great! 15 or 20 minutes of fittening work is all that is needed. A good walk and long trot around the pasture is better than nothing. Attempt to ride at least 4 times a week, preferably 5. Like us, they do need time off to allow any minors aches and pains to heal.
5. Get Yourself Fit: We all could do with being a bit fitter ourselves, and for the sake of our horses we should strive to lose those few extra winter pounds to lighten the load. Most fit, well built Quarter Horses can safely carry 230 lbs. This includes tack! So if you and your tack are over this do everything you can to achieve this goal. Regardless of your weight, your horse will thank you for establishing a balanced seat, and satisfactory muscle tone to stop you bouncing around on his back. Barn chores, walking and swimming are ideal exercises to get us more supple and lose those few pounds. Spend some time each ride doing a few exercises while mounted. Riding without stirrups, pulling your legs up and balancing on your butt, stretching forward, back and to each stirrups will help us achieve a more balanced seat.
6. Warm up! This means you and your horse. Don't just mount up and gallop off into the sunset! Do some simple stretching before mounting to loosen up. After mounting spend at least 5 minutes walking your horse on a loose rein, then another 5 min. long trotting allowing him to stretch forward and down. You will soon get a feel for when you are both ready to get to some serious work. Asking a horse to do a spin before warming up is asking for injury and mental breakdown. It is an advanced movement that puts allot of stress on mind and body! At the end of your ride spend another 5 minutes letting his mind and body recover walking on a long rein. You will both finish with a feeling of accomplishment and joy no matter how the rest of the ride went!
HAVE FUN EVERYONE AND GOOD LUCK!