Bringing your horse back into work
So the time has come. Time to figuratively and literally get back on the horse. But how do you go about bringing your horse back into work?
(Please note before you continue this advice is based on your horse being off due for reasons other than ill health. If your horse has been ill, please ask for advice from your vet before you proceed)
Firstly, before you can even consider getting on, you need to go through a checklist of assessments of your horses health and equipment.
Is your horse physically ready? A chiropractic session to work through any kinks or muscle tension your horse may have developed will aid in the correct training moving forward. A good chiro will recognise these weaknesses and will be able to advice of exercises to build strength in them. It’s advisable to get your chiropractor out on a regular basis to ease muscle tension and pains as they possibly develop.
How’s your tack? Before putting tack back on your horse, please consider that over even a small amount of time, your horse will have lost some muscle and condition. Call a qualified fitter for their advice, make sure your tack is in good condition and that it is suitable to go back on your horse. As with your chiro, its advisable to get them back out in 6 weeks, or 2 months, as your horse will change shape again and said saddle might not fit. Remember that it is advisable to have your saddle checked every 3 months.
Clean your bridle. If your bridle has been out of action and put into storage, it may be a good time to take it apart and give it a good clean and oil. Taking the time to check for any cracks that could have appeared especially if it’s dried out. Do the same with your stirrup leathers and girth if they are also made of leather.
Weight. Please be mindful that if your horse has gained weight during their time off, that this extra weight combined with new exercises will inevitably put extra strain on their joints. Consult your vet if you feel they may need an extra supplement to aid this.
Getting to the physical side. Lets treat your horses return to work as you would yourself getting into running, we’ll do these stage on weekly increments on the idea you’re riding 4-5 times a week.
You start with a long, brisk walk to raise your heart rate, and you’d do this several times. Take your horse out for a hack, keep a good forward thinking walk, with some hill work if able.
After a week or so, introduce light lunging work. If your horse is likely to be “fresh” before you first get on them, you may want to do this step first. Walk and trot on a large circle on a level surface. Try not to keep in the same place though, move around as a continuous circle can add strain to the joints. After a week add some small canter work.
Back on! In the school if you prefer, start working in walk and trot on loose reins, asking for stretches and long movement. Don’t be expecting your horse to pick themselves up yet nor will they be able to hold a working contact. Work them long so they can stretch over the back and loosen those muscles. Keep on going large, or work on larger 20 metre circles. Keep your turns open and large too, to change your rein, go across the diagonal.
Again, after a week, start asking for small offerings of canter. Look for a clean transition, and focus on quality over quantity. If you can get a good upwards transition, with a good 4 strides of canter, perfect, leave it at that. You can slowly build up the length you hold your canter after this.
Next you want to start adding smaller circles in walk, and reintroduce your lateral work. You want to be working on stretching and balancing your horses muscles at this point, without rushing them.
Finally you can add some collection. If your horse has been consistently able to stretch and work long, they should be flexible in their back enough to be able to lift themselves into self carriage. Add some more collection work into your paces, but as before, quality over quantity. If your horse can’t maintain contact in walk, they won’t in trot. Work on it in a slower pace before adding into a faster pace, and only ask for as much as the horse would be able to do. If you are inclined to do so, add some pole work to help with collection and elevation.
Remember during these times to listen to your horse. We don’t all make the same achievements in the same amount of time, and there is absolutely no shame in listening to your horse and taking it back a step. Rome wasn’t built in a day after all!
Your friends, Paige and the boys