Thursday 5th February, 2015
Just in the same way that we need to push our bodies to improve and maintain our fitness, the same is true of our equine companions. Summer bodies and top summer performances are built in the winter, so now if you want to make 2015 the year that you and your horse excel in the arena then now is the perfect time to get started.
After a frosty winter when regular exercise may have lost its momentum, it is important to ease both you and your horse back into training very gradually to allow the muscles to elongate and build up over time. A training plan should be drawn up to suit your riding ability, current level of fitness and the goals you wish to achieve and, although intensity will be individual to each pair, the best plans will be spread out over at least eight to twelve weeks prior to the season starting. Training does not necessarily require a professional unless you are competing at national/international level, and although you will need to do your homework, training your own horse can further strengthen the understanding and bond between you both as horse and rider.
Whether you compete in showing and dressage at riding club level or are an affiliated show jumper, all training programmes should begin with slow, low impact work. This should include plenty of elongated paces such as walk and trot to allow you horse’s bones and tendons to steadily increase both their density and strength. Your horse can be put through his paces either on the lunge line or ridden, and a mixture of the two is recommended to allow you to physically watch your horse’s outline and movements and ensure that he works correctly from the floor.
As you start to pick up the intensity of training, you can move into more collected paces and more deliberate movements through schooling and lungeing. This will provide a more cardiovascular workout for both horse and rider to improve your overall fitness and lead you on to more specialised training in your chosen discipline. You may wish to consider the use of training aids as a chambon or side reins when lungeing to encourage your horse to lower his head and relax forward into a rounded outline, stretching and strengthening his top line in the process. Draw reins and double bridles can also be particularly useful aids to be used by the rider during schooling for short period of time.
Nutrition has a vital part to play in the success of any training programme, as does periods of rest in spacious well-built stables, as the muscles require the correct proteins coupled with rest periods to enable them to repair and rebuild following training sessions. Without good quality feed and adequate rest, your horse can actually end up losing muscle as the body breaks down tissues to get the energy it needs to meet the demands being put upon it. It is worth remembering that your horse will likely require an increase in feed quantity as training progresses, and will almost certainly require additional hard feeds to maintain condition and give them the energy needed to remain alert and active through each session.