Most horses will have an extended period of time off work at some point in their lives, whether it’s due to an injury or illness, to give them a rest or because their rider is out of action themselves. If the time has come to start bringing your horse back into work, it’s important it’s done gradually in order to prepare his muscles for carrying a rider again and to make sure he’s level-headed when you get back on board. Rushing things will put him at risk of injury and compromise your safety.
A tailor-made plan
You’ll need to match your horse’s fitness plan to your end goal, whether that’s getting him ready for hacking or Riding Club dressage, or conditioning him for eventing. Remember that all horses are different, so you’ll need to take into account a number of factors that may influence how you progress his return-to-work schedule, including…
- the reason he’s been off work
- any advice your vet has given you
- whether he was on box rest or was turned out during his time off
- his temperament
- your facilities
- how much time you have
Any of these factors may require you to slow things down, but adding an extra week of groundwork is far more beneficial than getting back on your horse before he’s ready.
There’s a lot to be said for doing some groundwork before getting back in the saddle, particularly if your horse has lost muscle mass. Equally, if he’s developed a grass tummy during his time off, weightless exercise will allow you to shed a bit of this and tighten up his muscles, which will ensure his back is better supported when you do start ridden work. There are a few ways to achieve this…
- a horse walkercan be a handy tool when it comes to starting exercise after a holiday. Be aware, though, that a walker may not be suitable in all situations. Your horse will be working on a constant turn so, for example, it’s not ideal if he’s sustained a soft tissue injury, as he’ll usually need to be exercised in a straight line. If you’re unsure, speak to your vet
- long-reiningis a great way to start your horse’s walk exercise, particularly if you’re bringing a youngster back into work or you don’t have access to a walker. It’s also a useful alternative to lungeing for an unfit horse, and can break up his cardio training and hacking as you progress through his fitness programme
Read more of Fizz’s tips for developing a back-to-work plan for your horse in the June issue of Horse&Rider, on sale 3 May.