Winter Break and Loss of Fitness
So, do you guys take the winters off from competing/conditioning? I've considered letting my two slide and legging them back up in the spring... How long does it take for a horse to "lose fitness"? How long can you lay off a horse without having to "start over"?
Interested to read responses
JMO the horse will need 2x as long as they have had off in order to re-condition. So 2 weeks off = 1 month of conditioning.
It is very difficult to let a horse down and start him back up as the joints lose condition, the cartilage can become brittle, the bones lose density, etc.. as he is let off, and it takes lots of time to recondition him to a point where his body is functional. He will remember the training, and he will want to come back into it, but it is very easy to overdo it and cause irreparable damage to the musco-skeletal system of the horse.
After competition season is over, I do like to give the horses a break with lighter training, lots of hacking and conditioning work, and less arena work. For about a month or two in September/October I will work almost exclusively in the field and on the x-country course with my dressage horses to get their fitness UP for the training season, without the stress of arena work, as I do a lot of arena work in winter as there is no where else really to ride. They appreciate the break from arena work and come into the winter season as refreshed as if they have had that time in a field, but with stronger bodies from the conditioning work. Then I can train in the winter, come out in February for the spring season, and take a similar break for a week or two in May to condition them again for the summer season. Then repeat. So the horses are not always in the arena, but they are always in good condition. I find I have almost no colic, ulcers or functional lamenesses (horses will always find something to cut themselves on or kick something or slip on ice though!) and they are in an intense program. This along with good feed, weight management and a good care regime (every day turnout, big boxes, consistent feeding 4-5x a day, etc..) so the whole program.
tl;dr - No I would not let a horse down for any reason other than a lameness, vary the work schedule on the off season to keep the mind fresh and the body conditioned.
Ever since we moved, which was about six or seven years ago, we never rode in winter because we never had an indoor arena - and where I'm at it is very icy and very cold!
When we did go back to ride in the spring, they were a little used to not being worked, so they were stubborn and acted like they were two again. But after a week of hard but kind groundwork and riding they got back to themselves again.
This winter we found an indoor arena - so we won't have to worry about our first week of spring this year before we can start doing serious stuff!
I do not think Arabians lose condition at the same rate as other horses. I have NO scientific evidence...only my own experience. I have always had life interrupt my endurance rides, and my horses are always BETTER when we come back. My pinto mare was very well conditioed, and then fell in a hole on a ride. I was having trouble getting a diagnosis from a vet, so I called a chiropractor(back when chiro was a "fringe" field) , and then bred her, so she was off almost 2 years. In 3 months of conditioning, she placed very well in back to back 30 mile LD rides, on WAY more challenging terrain than our training trails!
Just my experience....
I'm also in a situation where I don't ride at all of very little in winter. And winters here up north mean 3-4 months without riding. The horses are turned out daily so they have minimal exercise on their own.
In my experience, my horses get back in condition after 6-8 weeks of conditioning. Then, they improve to be better than the year before, every year so far. So, they do not lose what they learned and they improve faster after a winter break. I have to add I'm conditioning for 25-50 miles rides. If I planned on 75-100, I think I would have to keep riding in winter and reduce the time off to 1 or 2 months.
I hate, and I mean HATE the cold. Therefore,because of my utter and total disdain and dislike for the cold I give mine January off. I still go out everyday day to groom and pick his hooves, feed him extra hay, and watch him eat it, but I do have an indoor and a patio heater so I can sit and watch him but still be relatively warm.
Come February, even. I hate the cold, we are back at it. First with lunging then riding. I find I need to get his mind back into it.....kinda like me returning to work after a vacation!
He is in his prime, so physically he doesn't take long before getting him back. As he ages, I'm sure that will change, as it has with me.
In some parts of Canada and the US, we get enough snow that horses stay fairly fit if allowed out 24/7.
We routinely give the horses time off, both after competitions and after the season. My general rule of thumb is 2 weeks for every 50 miles of competition during the season. Then after the season is over, they generally get 4-6 weeks totally off, depending on the weather and the plan for the following season. One thing I have heard from multiple people who have been competing for many, many years is the value of rest.
Our horses are turned out 24/7 so are able to move around at their whim. I think a horse that is stalled or confined to a small pen loses condition much faster than a horse in a pasture (just ask Dream :?), esp the cardio component.
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