Back to Work

Posted by in Blog, fitness after time off, getting a horse back into work on Oct 13, 2012


Is your horse just coming back in to work? Now you’ve waited all this time do you know what you’re going to do with him? You wouldn’t be the first rider to wait patiently for weeks only to finally get the go ahead and lose your nerve in your ability – or your stickability!


If your horse has been off work through no fault of his own the chances are he’s had a happy time out in the field pleasing himself. If that’s the case you just need to get him back into the swing of things without over doing it. Whilst it’s good to go slowly you don’t need to treat him with kid gloves; he will have been happily turning himself inside out for weeks and be a master of the handbrake turn. All you need to do is increase his fitness and his muscle tone to enable him to do what you want him to.


Safety should always be your top priority. If your horse has been in his field for six months then it’s understandable that when you first venture outside the yard gate he’s going to find the whole world highly entertaining. Don’t go it alone! There’s always safety in numbers. Hack out in a group or take at least one other with you and you’ll give him the security of a companion. It doesn’t matter if he gets over excited by the whole occasion – if there’s someone there with you you’ll be able to talk non stop to get rid of that nervous tension that will be welling up inside.


If there is nobody available to hold your horse’s hoof then opt for the school. At least it’s home turf and you stand more chance of having a calm, uninterrupted time.


You’ll be well advised not to do small circles and sharp turns. There’s absolutely no reason you need to push your horse too hard and risk him pulling a muscle. What would be the point? But just how small is a small circle?


Ideally nothing smaller than 20m is good to start off with. Keep your circles at that size and it’s enough to get your horse thinking, bending and balanced without asking too much. Having said that it won’t kill him to do the odd three loop serpentine from one end of the school to the other. Be sensible about it. You wouldn’t think twice about him turning round in his 12×12 stable so the odd tight turn won’t hurt.


Keep your transitions indirect or progressive to start with. Keep them accurate and responsive but not too strenuous. Asking your horse to do a perfect walk to canter or a canter to halt is asking him to sit down harder on his quarters than he’s been used to. He needs to build up to that so give him time to adjust.


‘How much is too much’ is a common question. Every horse is different. Some are more enthusiastic than others. The best way to judge a horse’s fitness is by watching his breathing. It’s OK, in fact healthy, for your horse to be slightly out of breath after a couple of circuits in canter. It’s not OK if his sides are heaving and the sweat is popping out above his eyebrows!


Your horse’s recovery rate is the thing that tells you how fit he is. Anyone can run 100 yards but only the fittest will be ready to do it again within a couple of minutes. Test your horse’s fitness by trotting or cantering five circuits of the school. Then watch his breathing as you allow him to walk large on a long rein. You can see this from watching his sides rather than leaning to one side to watch his nostrils. The quicker he gets back to normal the fitter he is.


If your horse has been laid off due to injury and has spent the past three to six months in a stable then you need to think differently. He’ll be itching to stretch his legs and probably be full of the joys of life. Lucky you!


The chances are your vet will have advised walking exercise. This can be a nerve wracking time for any rider – worries over injury to horse and jockey can make for a white knuckle ride! In the worst cases ask your vet for advice on sedatives or calmers. There’s absolutely no shame in using either.


All riders have different levels of fear! Some find the challenge of riding an equine time bomb fun. There’s nothing wrong with paying one of these adrenalin junkies to ride your horse for you. He’ll feel calmer and be less likely to misbehave because he doesn’t have you up there jumping with him every time he puts a hoof out of place.


Getting a horse back into work is always an exciting time – in more ways than one. If you have six weeks of walking exercise ahead of you check out this post full of ideas on what to do in walk. There’s no better way to keep your horse focused than filling his head with your ideas rather than letting him fill it with ones of his own!


Good luck and try to enjoy your schooling!

There’s a new booklet in The Read to Succeed series! Prelim 12 has been broken down into easy to follow stages. Follow the tips on practising, warming up and test riding in this booklet and you can’t fail to improve your score.

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