Conditioning your horse after the winter
   

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Conditioning your horse after the winter

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  • Starting horses back up after the winter
  • Conditioning your horse for jumping

 
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    03-24-2010, 01:53 PM
  #1
Showing
Conditioning your horse after the winter

Wondering how people condition their horses (I'm facing it right now :) )...

I read today on Internet (one of the trainers posted) that you have to HAND walk it for MONTH, then walk for at least couple weeks in saddle, and then get to trot, and only after couple months get to canter. That sounds ridiculous to me (I assume that horse is healthy of course and havn't been off for several years). Is it just me? I absolutely agree with the idea of conditioning and not just get on and here we go on run, but should be something more reasonable.
     
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    03-24-2010, 02:07 PM
  #2
Yearling
Well it depends how off the horse has been. Have they been continually stalled or only turned out in small pastures all winter? Have they had ample turnout but no riding time? Have they had intermittent riding and some turnout, etc etc etc.

My rule of thumb is if they got some exercise at least three days a week then continue in that vein. So, if they got ridden once a week on average and turned out at least 3 times a week then I would start riding 3-4 times a week at 30-45 minute time slots. Mostly walking and trotting, some canter. Trail rides for an hour with mostly walk and some trot/canter are acceptable. Basically ease them back into working but make it fun and expect them to remember their training. Don't just let them run like an idiot, all out of balance and crazy around the ring. Making them rate their pace to a normal level, steering, stopping, leads etc are all things they should be doing regardless of how long they were off (unless these things were not already established before they were taken out of work for winter).

Lots of large loop serpentines, figure eights, circles, transitions etc would be great to get any horse back in shape. The moral of the story is take 10-15 minutes warming up on a loose rein or lunge them if they've been off for a while with limited turnout or they need kick up their heels to get down to business. Don't punish them for being fresh but don't let them use it to their advantage either. Letting a horse that has been out of work play and buck and canter on the lunge line is actually a good thing, not a bad one. Let them get the spring crazies out and then ask them to get down to work. Then once they're warmed up pick one thing they know and work on that for 10-20 minutes. Whether that is neck reining, stopping, regulating pace etc. Don't fight for a frame or for them to drop their head etc. Work on the big things, the little things will come with their increased fitness levels. Then take another 10-15 minutes and cool down. Walk on a long rein, take a walk through the fields or if you were doing some trot work on slowing down then let them do some big strided stretchy circles and then walk them out. Basically, start slow remember to overdo the warm up and cool down parts and don't ask for the hard stuff right away and you should be fine. Also, don't push them if they tire. If they get tired at 20 minutes, then stop and cool down with a nice loose rein walk. Even if you feel like you got nothing accomplished, stop and reward the try. Fighting with an out of shape, tired and grumpy horse is never going to get you very far so avoid the fight. Eventually they will gain fitness and will still be willing to work for you instead of being sour from being worked to exhaustion. Keep your horse's point of view and common sense in perspective and you will be back to your regular routine in no time.
     
    03-24-2010, 02:09 PM
  #3
Banned
I would just saddle up the horse and go for a ride. Take it easy and let the horse tell you how much it can take. One of our horses in the barn gets 6 months off every winter while his mom spends it in florida. She comes back , saddles up and heads out with my guy who is in shape and rode alot all winter. She never seems to have a problem doing an easy 10 mile loop right off.
I would just ride easy and see how the horse takes it.
     
    03-24-2010, 02:25 PM
  #4
Banned
The reconditioning of a horse varies drastically. There will be horses that hold their condition better than others. It'll depend a lot on how much time the horse had off and the management of the horse during the time off...did the horse gain weight, did he get turnout, did he get stretched and massaged...

Is the horse one to stand around, or move a lot? What body type is the horse? Just what kind of shape was the horse in before the time off? How was the horse let down? How old is the horse? Does the horse have physical issues like arthritis?

And so on...

The better you know your horse, the better you'll be able to determine how to bring it back into condition.

I think the biggest mistake people make is not remembering that the horse is very poorly designed to carry weight and so it is hard work for the horse to carry a rider, even in walk. A 4hr walking trail ride is so not a cool thing to do to your horse when you haven't been on it in a while.

I actually started a horse back today. I turned him out into an 8 acre pasture, where he spent a few hours roaming. And I mean roaming...he literally did not stop moving in all the time. He was either walking, trotting or galloping at full speed. He stopped a couple times for a drink of water and a nibble of brown grass or hay, and then was on the move again. When he was tired, he came to the gate and I put him away. (He has a double stall and small paddock that he has full access to, and was turned out into a larger paddock several times over the winter.)

He's probably laid out flat on his back right now, dead tired, and he'll be stiff and sore tomorrow. I'll put him out into the big field every day now and by next week I'll probably put him on the longeline for 10mins or so...walk and trot and just encouraging him to stretch and refresh the aids.

I'll immediately start a stretching program with him that will be done once a day and then move to twice a day once I'm back up riding him...which will be dependent mostly on the weather, but I'm hoping to be on him by the first of the month or so.

I'll probably only ride 20-30mins the couple of weeks or so, walking, trotting and some cantering, but my main focus will be forward, stretching, and seeing how much suppleness he's lost. I'll also be taking this opportunity to double check his responsiveness to the aids. I'll expect him to be a bit slow off them.

By the first of May, if the weather prevails, and all goes well, we should be in the full swing of things with him working 4-5 times per week, ring work days 45mins (I don't mess around in flatwork, so 45mins is a decent amount of work and he'll be in a full body sweat), and days we hack out will be 60-75mins.

So, I guess...I'm looking at about 6 weeks to build my horse back up to a regular routine...might take longer, probably won't be quicker for this horse, and the weather will play a significant role. He won't yet be in as good of shape as we ended the season, but we'll be well on our way and he'll be sound.
     
    03-24-2010, 02:30 PM
  #5
Showing
Thank you, guys!

Basically both mine were off riding completely for 3 months (I couldn't trailer with the snowstorms we had, and I can't use neighbor's ring unfortunately during the winter). Before that they were ridden regularly. They live 24/7 out (with exception of really bad weather), and oh they fly in pasture almost every day like crazy for at least half-hour or so (they are both coming 6 yo, so still young and very playful). I was planning to start 20 mins walk with little trot somewhere in middle and just increase by 5 mins or so every day after 3 days of such riding.
     
    03-24-2010, 02:35 PM
  #6
Banned
Quote:
Originally Posted by kitten_Val    
Thank you, guys!

Basically both mine were off riding completely for 3 months (I couldn't trailer with the snowstorms we had, and I can't use neighbor's ring unfortunately during the winter). Before that they were ridden regularly. They live 24/7 out (with exception of really bad weather), and oh they fly in pasture almost every day like crazy for at least half-hour or so (they are both coming 6 yo, so still young and very playful). I was planning to start 20 mins walk with little trot somewhere in middle and just increase by 5 mins or so every day after 3 days of such riding.
A general rule of thumb...very loose rule of thumb...is one week per month off. Do with that what you will.

Your plan sounds reasonable. And the only way to find out if it works is to give it a try. Don't be afraid to make adjustments as you go along in relation to how the horse/s is/are responding. If you find all of a sudden they get balky and reluctant...back off. And if you find they are full of spit and vinegar, then increase the workload.
     
    03-25-2010, 07:00 AM
  #7
Showing
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mercedes    
A general rule of thumb...very loose rule of thumb...is one week per month off. Do with that what you will.

Your plan sounds reasonable. And the only way to find out if it works is to give it a try. Don't be afraid to make adjustments as you go along in relation to how the horse/s is/are responding. If you find all of a sudden they get balky and reluctant...back off. And if you find they are full of spit and vinegar, then increase the workload.
Thanks, Mercedes! About one week off... Should it be straight week? Or just days here and there? They always get days off (sometime up to 2 or 3 in row) when I'm working too late or there is a heavy rain, just not the week straight usually. I've never seen this being a case in lesson barns though - all horses are in work all week unless sick, one of the reasons I don't like much big lesson barns (horses are too worn out).

I tried them yesterday for 15 mins walk mostly in ring. They certainly didn't look like they going to die. :) When I tried little bit of trot my qh looked like she wanted to move to canter every time - she was excited but in good way. My paint on other side didn't want to go at all (she's always showing off in beginning). I hope to bring them up by the end of April (so I could trailer them for the jumping lessons)!
     
    03-25-2010, 09:02 AM
  #8
Yearling
I'm with RiosDad on this. Take them for a ride.
Hopefully you know how to take your horses Pulse and Respiration. Watch his signs. As long as you are not stressing the horse. Go out and enjoy a ride.

Hard Tissue, (ligaments, tendons, bone) take a long time to develop into top performance. But they are also slower to atrophy. Soft Tissue, ( lungs, heart, muscles) are faster to condition, but they also atrophy faster. So spring time conditioning after a couple of months off, is dealing mostly with soft tissue, The hard tissue will not have deteriated that much with 3 months off.

Letís take you for example. If last fall you were in shape and could run a marathon last fall, you take the winter off. Come spring what would you do to get back into shape. Now I venture that if you could run a marathon at 26 miles last October, You would go out and do a easy jog 5 mies for your first spring time exercise. You would not start out by saying, Well I was in shape last fall, but I'll only walk 100 yards this week to start my conditioning.

Now if you got in a car wreck and suffered major trauma to your body, If you gained 20% of your body weight during the winter, If you develeped a serious fever a couple of weeks ago and was bedridden for 10 days, Then I would worry about starting much slower in my conditioning program. A horse is no different.

My horses see pretty light use during the winter. Maybe a ride every 2 weeks and even those are only 5-6 miles. I enjoy too many other witner sports to spend alot of time with the horses. Begining in late February or early March, we get back into the riding. By April when ski season is winding down, I'm back on the horses 2-3 times a week. I'll be back doing 25 mile day rides, 50 mile weekends easily by May.

Now that said, I don't keep my horses in a stall, They have 24x7 turnout, I see them frequetly running in the paddock in the winter, ( usually when I show up to feed, they run to greet me). So you will have to evaluate your horses and decide based on how you keep them. But if it were me, I get on and go for a ride.
     
    03-25-2010, 09:18 AM
  #9
Banned
Quote:
Originally Posted by kitten_Val    
Thanks, Mercedes! About one week off... Should it be straight week? Or just days here and there? They always get days off (sometime up to 2 or 3 in row) when I'm working too late or there is a heavy rain, just not the week straight usually. I've never seen this being a case in lesson barns though - all horses are in work all week unless sick, one of the reasons I don't like much big lesson barns (horses are too worn out).
No, what I meant was, it takes one week of reconditioning per month off. So, if the horse had 3 months off, you're looking at 3 weeks to bring the horse back up to condition.

Time off is a whole other issue and again is very dependent on the horse, age, temperament (some horses are hard on themselves, so are easy on themselves), level of condition, management, pre-existing conditions...and so on.

The horse in my avatar thrives on work and will go 5-6 days a week and be in a full body sweat after each ride. He'll go like that for several months straight, but then require a break of about 2 weeks or so for a mental let down...physically he'll be fine, but he'll start to become overwhelmed mentally and then emotionally he falls apart. After the break, he'll be good to go for another few months.
     
    03-25-2010, 10:13 AM
  #10
Showing
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mercedes    
No, what I meant was, it takes one week of reconditioning per month off. So, if the horse had 3 months off, you're looking at 3 weeks to bring the horse back up to condition.
Oh, I see what you are saying! Silly me!
     

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