What's harder on horses, dressage or low jumps? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 13 Old 05-16-2020, 06:59 PM Thread Starter
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What's harder on horses, dressage or low jumps?

You folks are always very knowledgeable, so I thought I'd put this out for debate. Harley is 21. He is an Arab gelding who has arthritis in his hocks so we put him on Previcox (Equiox) almost a year ago, and he's doing fine. The vet said he should stay active, even jumping, though we are limiting him to 2'3" max at shows (he is my daughter's horse). He is shown in the summer about once every other weekend, though not this summer so far because of Covid-19.

My daughter has become interested in dressage and Harley actually has a dressage background so she's been doing a lot of that with him lately. They are coming along very nicely. But her coach, who has done both at national levels, says dressage is harder than the kind of low jumping she is doing. I definitely see him sweating more and working harder at dressage compared to jumping. Collection is hard, but they do look nice doing it!

So let's hear it. What's harder on an aging horse? I always thought jumping, but now I'm not so sure. Jumping is stop and go, you get out, you jump a course and you're done. Dressage work is long, hard, and tedious. But maybe in the long term, develops groups of muscles that are beneficial? Just curious. Either way, we have very realistic expectations for him as he is our prince. My daughter has started riding a different horse at lessons so she can develop her skills at jumping higher (a boarder's horse who is a top jumper and is happy to let my daughter ride her horse). She would prefer to ride Harley all the time, but I tell her it's a way for her to work her way up to higher jumps and get her position right without the wear and tear on Harley.
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post #2 of 13 Old 05-16-2020, 08:43 PM
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I my opinion, dressage is harder for the older horse.
More muscle control, fitness level and work holding posturing in frame is needed by a dressage horse than a hunter/equitation or jumper continuous.
H/J and such do frame work, hold it for short periods of time and then move on to less strenuous activities where dressage is more to me "framed".
I know Harley was a dressage competition horse primarily from what you had written years ago when you fist bought him.
He was sold because he couldn't do it anymore thought you had said...his age gave him limitations and he was no longer moving correctly to achieve the levels of those riders.
Harley is now older, hence also more arthritic and out of shape and condition of a dressage horse musculature.
I think if you pursue dressage you will be doing a lot more invasive in-depth maintenance work to try to keep him comfortable and sound..and not succeed.

Your daughter and you might need to seriously consider leasing her a competition horse and Harley is her fun horse and trail partner with a semi-retired lifestyle in his near future.
I think concentrating on dressage will sore the horse and make him miserable in attitude to work...
Wear and tear is ongoing to his joints and body everywhere...he is now a senior citizen and does have issues with his health in many areas.
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post #3 of 13 Old 05-16-2020, 09:19 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks @horselovinguy , either way, and whichever discipline they pursue, it will be very light, lower levels. To be clear, Harley was sold not because of his age (he was 15 at the time, which to us, was not old), but because the owners, who had goals of competing at the national level, felt that as an Arab, he just didn't have what it took to go further. They told me his short back made dressage harder for him to round up his back. So he won provincial championships, but they wanted more than that. My daughter, on the other hand, would absolutely thrilled with a provincial championship.

That said, I have learned that dressage IS hard work. I thought it would be better because the movements are more controlled. Harley can do it, and bless his sweet soul, he work so hard. But is it better for him? I'm not so sure. Perhaps others will disagree, so I'd be curious to hear other thoughts.

I appreciate your input.
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post #4 of 13 Old 05-16-2020, 09:59 PM
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Thanks Acadian for the understanding of what and how I wrote that and it be intended taken...no way a dig at any of you.
I too look forward to others perspective on the subject.

I know Harley has a forever home with you. For that I applaud you and your family...
He is a sweet horse, good for your daughters self-confidence he was and is...he taught her so much.

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The worst day is instantly better when shared with my horse.....
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post #5 of 13 Old 05-16-2020, 10:00 PM
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That's a tough question.

There are some good, nerdy articles about concussion related to joints on the Kentucky Equine Research site and some university sites.

You could read several and come away with: It depends!

Depends on surface, amount of work at what gaits, level of fitness, condition of ligaments, tendons, and muscles.

So I'd just watch my horse. I would cold hose after training sessions. In dressage, more force is frequently placed on the forelegs. I'd even use ice boots, if you have access to an ice machine. (Otherwise it would be crazy expensive and I would cold hose)
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post #6 of 13 Old 05-16-2020, 10:01 PM
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First of all 21 is not old, for most Arabs. If he is heavily sweating at a workout, that seems a bit odd to me. unless we are talking about hot days. My friend's arab didn't ride 'old' until 26. Every Arab horse I've ever encountered went like a steam roller, right up until the day they collapsed, metaphorically.

But, I understand what you are saying. You want to be fair to him and his hocks, even though he will likely go right through any pain he has, . . . right?

My answer, based on about as much experience as you have, is do what he loves the best. And if it's dressage, understand that small circles at the trot or canter might be hard for him. See if he prefers deep footing, or not so deep. Sometimes deep footing is WORSE for a horse , especially if they have joint issues.

That's my diplomatic answer.
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post #7 of 13 Old 05-17-2020, 08:00 AM
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It was an Arabian that was only one of two horses to win the USDF (FEI) certificate at all 9 levels (Training to Grand Prix) according to an article I read in a friend's Dressage Today.

I think it would be bias of the judges which regionally determines which breed moves further up the chain of competition in a given area.

As for what is harder on the horse, I will say that chance of injury increases with age for a horse that jumps and with dressage and the intricate movements it would not be that it is harder on the body but that if there is an underlying condition or injury it becomes more apparent. That said I wouldn't start a horse at dressage at an advanced age and expect them to reach a higher level and because of the concussion I wouldn't begin to jump at that age. JMO but in Harley's case he is trained, has the muscle memory and you are on top of his care. You've lowered the jump height expected and your daughter is not a burden to him weight wise. She is also happy at a level he has shown and won in with dressage. He is fit and you are aware. I say go for it. I'd be more inclined to let the jumping go as he gets older and stick with dressage. When he gets to a competition level he can't perform at you will know.

Some horse people change their horse, they change their tack and discipline, they change their instructor; they never change themselves.
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post #8 of 13 Old 05-18-2020, 11:32 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks all. I will keep a close eye on him. My daughter has decided to ride a friend's horse so she can do her rider levels and jump higher. We're discussing something like a half lease for the next couple of months. She'll still show Harley on flats and low jumps, and do some jumpers on this other horse (who is a flashy winner in the show ring). She needs to be able to jump 2'6" to do her rider levels 5 and 6 which will give her coaching certification, so this is a good way to do it without pushing Harley too hard. She will focus on dressage with him this summer.
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Last edited by Acadianartist; 05-18-2020 at 11:38 AM.
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post #9 of 13 Old 05-18-2020, 02:27 PM
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The levels of dressage that I believe your daughter would compete at would not be 'harder' than the work your daughter should be doing while competing him in jumping. I imagine she has worked on rhythm, suppleness, contact, impulsion, straightness, and some degree of collection while jumping. Low-level dressage shouldn't require much more than what she should have already been doing. Smaller circles aren't really in lower-level dressage either.

An entry-level test will require a free walk, working walk, working trot, working canter, and 20m circles. With my 22yr old half-Arabian, this work never stopped, no matter if we were jumping or not. He has always been expected to carry his body correctly with forwardness.

Beyond that, no, I don't particularly think Harley should go much further in dressage. The difference between him and my senior half-Arabian, is that my horse does not have any signs of arthritis and has had zero soundness issues. I would be willing to work to go a bit further with my horse than Harley, but that also doesn't mean I am. I understand my horse is aging, and that consistent, senior-safe work will benefit him more than trying to push him into higher levels.

Eventually, I think you will start having to look for a horse for your daughter to transition onto, if she wants to continue competing on her own horses, or lease something a bit younger. She could have a horse that she can compete dressage on, and compete over 2'6"+ on, without having to worry about soundness issues looming overhead. Harley still have time to help her learn skills necessary to transition to a different horse, perhaps even a less-schooled horse, and eventually make the switch. Just something to keep in mind...I know the time is coming for my senior horse, and it has been bittersweet preparing my new mare to one day take his place, but it is best for my guy to live long, and comfortably into his senior years.
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post #10 of 13 Old 05-18-2020, 04:37 PM Thread Starter
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I agree with you @ClearDonkey . I don't think he will ever go any higher in dressage that he was when we bought him. She's just asking for collection all the time, which is hard. They do take walk breaks, and have a good warm-up and stretch afterwards, but that dressage collection isn't easy. That said, he seems to be accepting it and doing quite well so far, so we'll keep at it and take it one day at a time.

We've talked about another horse for her but I'd have to sell Kodak (which I'm willing to do since no one is riding her lately, but it might not be easy), and my daughter is unsure whether she wants another horse right now. So the half-lease with the jumper seems like a good compromise. This jumper knows its job, is a push button horse, and a seasoned champion. His owner got an OTTB last year and is schooling him on higher jumps so she's happy to lease out her other horse so she can stay in work. We'll see how much my daughter enjoys jumping a bit higher, and doing basic dressage with Harley. At some point, she'll probably have to choose a discipline, but for how, it's good for her to be well-rounded as a rider. We'll just take it one day at a time.
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