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Five challenges all riders face bringing their horse back into work

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Two horses at the gallops

Photo credit: Jon Stroud

If you’re one of the many riders getting their horses fit with the promise of a return to competition on the horizon, you’ll probably be familiar with the myriad of ways they provide their own challenges when it comes to upping the workouts…

Bringing your horse back into work after a break – whether out of choice or necessity – is exciting. The promise of fast hacks and getting back out to events is more than enough to help you tough out the challenges that come with fitness work.

However, whether your horse knows his back-to-work routine inside-out or he’s more of a stranger to extended holidays, there’s sure to be something on our list that feels familiar as you bring him back into work…

  1. Frequent visits from your saddler and physio are an inevitable part of bringing your horse back up to full fitness. With a constantly – and quickly – changing physique to contend with, he’ll need a close eye kept on him to ensure his saddle fits and he’s not getting sore. While we all know it’s worth it to keep him feeling his best, it certainly doesn’t do our wallets any favours!
  2. We all know the drill – weeks of walk hacks and straight lines before any excitement. Unfortunately, nobody bothered to let your horse know. After three weeks of walking, he’s ready and raring to go, spooking left, right and centre and making what was meant to be a quiet hack down the lane a drama unrivalled by even the most action-packed soap.
  3. You’re ready to add some canter work to your horse’s regime. When was the last time you really got to feel the wind in your hair? You find the perfect spot, the ground conditions couldn’t be better and your horse is keen. Then, as you pick up canter, you hear a noise and suddenly your horse is lame as a dog. He’s pulled a shoe off (could your luck get any worse?) it’s the Friday afternoon of a bank holiday weekend and your farrier’s on holiday. Guess that canter work will have to wait a little longer…
  4. You do such a good job of planning your horse’s fitness regime to the finest detail, but the neglect of your own cardio efforts is starting to take its toll! Nothing gets you fit to ride like riding itself, but it’s pretty likely you’ll be even less ready for that first canter than your horse is – of course he’s had all the practise he needs hooning around the field with his mates. No matter. Chuck on a neckstrap and you’ll be away – how hard can it be?
  5. At whatever level you and your horse operate, there’s one universal truth when it comes to a return to fitness – he won’t remember an ounce of the dressage training you spent a fortune on before his break. He’ll have grown entirely too used to hacking in straight lines and flatwork will seem an impossibility. Leg-yield? Never heard of it. Maybe you won’t be heading out to that dressage competition in a week’s time…

A slow return to fitness is undoubtedly the best way to do it, but that doesn’t mean our horses have to make it easy for us. As always, buckets of patience and a solid sense of humour is a necessity when it comes to managing our equine pals’ antics.

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