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Hey all!
I'm currently part-boarding a slightly older mare, 17, who had been out of work for awhile before I started riding her in August, partly because of injury and partly because she was too much to handle for most of the school kids and leasing prospects she met. Her injury includes a pulled tendon in a front leg, but also just general bad conformation that compounds every little thing.
She's made huge strides since I've been working with her (not trying to toot my own horn- she's incredibly smart and a naturally hard worker). I've been working more on her behavior issues in saddle rather than her fitness issues since that was the limiting factor (can't exactly work on circles or transitions if she throws a fit every time you put your leg on!) but simply as a result of riding her more her fitness has already improved a lot. But I've finally gotten her to the point where she's going very nicely and politely and I can start introducing more complex work. My only issue is deciding exactly what's best for her current fitness level; it's also hard for me, as a fairly inexperienced horseperson, to decide what exactly she needs help with the most or rather what exercises she'd benefit most from. So here I'll try and give a rundown of what she's struggling with and what exercises will best help her.
I'll start by saying she's sound. I check her every day by just doing a few trot laps and though stiff, she's not lame. Right now she's struggling a lot with sharp turns (we have a pretty small arena and turning down the three-quarter line can be tough for her), canter transitions, keeping the canter, and cantering on the right lead (made harder by how she has to turn pretty sharply around corners in the little arena). She also rushes at the canter quite a bit and sometimes at the trot (used to be much worse) and although I'm sure this is partly behavior, I suspect poor balance is a big factor. She's also got a pretty big hay belly, probably a result from atrophied back muscles. I know the best fix for this is long-and-low, poles and transitions, but the problem is as a part-boarder I can't control her diet to give her the fuel she needs to build that muscle. I suspect she needs more protein in her diet, as she's in a no-grass pasture with not great hay. So I wonder if those types of exercises would do anything to begin with.
As a final note, I can't do anything overly complicated - though she's gotten way better in saddle, she's still opinionated and gets frustrated when you ask too much too fast.
I know this is a lot - thanks in advance for any suggestions!
 

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Diet is what fixes a true hay belly. Called such as they are holding on to wring every nutrient possible out before elimination. If you can't address diet then the belly will stay. If sand is an issue then adding sand clear or the likes can offer some reduction. If worm load is also an issue then a good worming using a power pac helps. Adding a vitamin and mineral supplement can also offer small improvements. Excercise will help her carry it better and perhaps look smaller but it will still remain until adequate, high quality forages with good protein is provided.
 

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Her injury includes a pulled tendon in a front leg, but also just general bad conformation that compounds every little thing.
...I'll start by saying she's sound. I check her every day by just doing a few trot laps and though stiff, she's not lame. Right now she's struggling a lot with sharp turns (we have a pretty small arena and turning down the three-quarter line can be tough for her), canter transitions, keeping the canter, and cantering on the right lead (made harder by how she has to turn pretty sharply around corners in the little arena). She also rushes at the canter quite a bit and sometimes at the trot (used to be much worse) and although I'm sure this is partly behavior, I suspect poor balance is a big factor.
Hello,

So... she has a pulled tendon, 'bad conformation' which could well be, for all we know, from other injuries. She is obviously stiff, 'struggles' with sharp turns, cantering and has obviously 'poor balance'... Not what I'd call a sound horse by a long shot. What is it that makes you think she is sound? Is it just that she is not obviously 'lame' - which only means she is not limping. She could well be 'stiff' from bilateral lameness, but if she's equally lame on both sides...

In all honesty, I'd want her thoroughly checked out physically - any good chiropractic vets in your neck of the woods? - before I asked anything much of her at all, as it sounds like she has at least a few physical issues. Her behaviour may have been bad because she was just trying to tell people she was hurting. It may not be that she won't do those sharp turns, canter transitions etc, but more that she CAN'T do those things without pain. And on top of all that, are you riding with a saddle & does that fit her comfortably? I really don't think you have any business labling it a training or just 'fitness' problem, when you haven't ruled out/treated the multitude of physical probs she has.
 

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"It's exactly the same for a horse. The tired horse pants and gets soaked with sweat. His heart races. And he becomes at heightened risk of muscle, ligament and tendon injuries.

And here's the thing about tendon and ligament injuries.....you do not want your horse to bow a tendon or get an injured suspensory ligament. A bowed tendon will take a year, at least, to fully heal....

If you don't want these injuries to happen, be sure you have built such a strong base of steady, slow , incremental work into your horse that his various systems - heart, lungs, muscles, tendons, bones, hooves - can withstand the forces put on them by exercise.

The way to start 'long slow distance' is by walking your horse. When he is totally unfit, maybe start with 30 minutes of walking for five or six days a week....

many riders find walking boring. Many riders do not have land to walk on. Many riders lack understanding of the enormous benefits that come from "LSD" - long slow distance. Which leads to an unfortunate conclusion: lots of horses hardly ever get walked into fitness....

...Now any good Pony Club maven will tell you that you should never, ever ride with earphones...but one way to alleviate the tedium of churning out those walking miles....is to get a good playlist of songs you like, crank up the volume, and never tell your Pony Club teacher...." - Denny Emerson, Know Better to Do Better, Mistakes I Made With Horses (So You Don't Have To)
I have very limited experience with horses, but the longer I'm around them, the more certain I am that humans frequently harm the horse by pushing the horse to do too much too soon. Be it physical or emotional, horses do best with slow, steady training. Laying a good foundation takes FOREVER it seems, but it is critical to their future!
 

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If the horse has a past injury of a pulled tendon. You never every want to do sharp turns or small circles again for fear of re-injury. This was advice from a vet that I got. If she is stiff of one side at the canter I would recommend stretches before every ride. It could possibly help. So take a low sugar treat and hold it at her flank area and get her to reach for it- this will stretch and help with bending and stiffness. You can also put her on supplements which I highly recommend after a tendon injury anyways. If weight is a worry I recommend a ration balancer, alfalfa cubes daily, hay, and supplements as the diet. The rushing at the canter or trot is because it is hard for her. She needs to get stronger. You said transitions aren't her favorite but transitions are a really good way to get her stronger. So walk trot transitions and trot canter transitions. Again you don't want to do small circles because of the past injury but you will want to keep her mind engaged to keep her invested so make sure your weaving through the ring doing serpentines of things like that. Also because of the rushing and injury make sure your keeping your leg on during downward transition so that she doesn't do that quick stopping thing which is hard on the legs and joints. You want to keep your leg on so you can come down balanced and gentler. Also since she is weak maybe don't canter for a while and just focus on the trotting and transitions with that. You can lengthen and shorten her strides maybe even do ground pole work which I always love.

EDIT: I just saw that you cant control her diet- could you bring stuff your self to feed her when your there? I am seeing she has a hay belly so she needs to loose weight but she also needs to be getting all the necessary nutrients to make everything work. What is she being fed?
 

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@loosie

Hey, sorry getting back to this so late, just sort of fell off the map for a bit.

I think part of the issue here is semantic. I say she's not lame because my personal definition of lameness is an obvious limp. Is she stiff and sometimes sore? Absolutely. I ride her only as much as I think she can handle comfortably based on what she's feeling that day. Sometimes that means not riding at all, and that's ok.

"I really don't think you have any business labling it a training or just 'fitness' problem, when you haven't ruled out/treated the multitude of physical probs she has."
She has been seen by both a vet and a specialized equine massage therapist several times. Just as you think it isn't fair for me to assume she isn't in pain, it isn't entirely fair of you to assume I'm not trying my best to work with her owner and make sure we only ask of her as much as we think she can handle under professional guidance :) Just feel free to ask me first next time!

Furthermore, I know her issues are at least in part behavioral/fitness issues because she's improved. I can only guess that if she was being put in more pain it would make her issues worse, but she's been progressing wonderfully and is capable of more and more basically every time we work. Pain is certainly part of the problem and I do my best to be aware of what she's feeling each day and only work to what I think she can. Additionally I'm not trying to work her to the point of being any kind of athlete. My final goal is to get her to a point where she can go comfortably for riding students who will use her once or twice a week for walk trot lessons.

Thanks for all the advice :)
 

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[MENTION=4160]I say she's not lame because my personal definition of lameness is an obvious limp. Is she stiff and sometimes sore? Absolutely. I ride her only as much as I think she can handle comfortably based on what she's feeling that day. Sometimes that means not riding at all, and that's ok.
It's great that you're listening to her, trying to be considerate. That should never be underappreciated. I did get the idea that you're doing what you can for her, to the best of your knowledge & ability doing what's best for her. At any rate, without knowing you, the horse, etc, that's what I try to assume of people anyway. I'm not trying to imply otherwise & apologies if it came across that way.

'Sound' is not the same as 'not lame'. As I tried to explain, lame just means a horse is limping. So is in a degree of pain that is blatantly obvious. Generally also means they're bad/worse on one side too, as many people don't recognise bilateral lameness(lame on both sides) & pass it off as 'a bit stiff' or such.

That you notice she is obviously 'stiff' and sore tells me she is not sound. Given the probs you know she has, that you said she's sound, that you said you're inexperienced, that you're focussing on behaviour & fitness & that you hadn't previously mentioned that she is under regular vet & bodywork care, or what if anything those pro's have advised/said, did lead me to assume you were discounting her pain to a large degree. *Not, as explained above, that I was assuming blame on you for that. As an inexperienced person, no doubt relying on whatever you've been told, not owning the horse... etc.

"I really don't think you have any business labling it a training or just 'fitness' problem, when you haven't ruled out/treated the multitude of physical probs she has."
So that still stands. Without even knowing what's wrong exactly, or what the 'experts' have said... I'd keep exploring what can be done to if possible get her sound first. As mentioned, I'd see what a chiropractic vet or qualified equine physio had to say. There are supplements, joint injections, medication & otherwise that may make her feel OK or help fix her, depending on what's wrong. Along with diet, nutrition & management & exercise changes that may help. But I appreciate she's not even your horse, so all that may not even be up to you.

So, without being able to ensure she can work for you without pain, without being advised otherwise by body experts(there may be specific exercises that will help her), I'd be asking very little of her, being extra considerate of how she's feeling. I would not be asking her to do any sharp(or lots of) turns & circles, canter under you or other things that are obviously difficult for her. I'd also be considerate that her 'behavioural' problems are at least partly her trying to communicate to you that she's hurting. That is what I meant by 'have no business treating it just as training or fitness issues, without...'.

I can only guess that if she was being put in more pain it would make her issues worse, but she's been progressing wonderfully
Yes, and because horses are such stoic, giving beasts, often do much more for people than is good for them, many people guess that. You're not alone. It can be hard to know, even for experienced people, even for vets or bodyworkers, when a horse can't just tell us... and often, due to their stoic nature, training, whatever, is also less likely to express themselves in the ways they can do.

*& I also appreciate fully it may well not be as it sounds, that perhaps it IS all just 'behavioural' & fitness. With only your description to go on, I'm not assuming it necessarily isn't. Just that from my experience & your words...
 
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