Monday, September 1, 2014

"Pt 4 Restarting, Conditioning, and Great Exercises For Your Horse"

Howdy Folks,
I started this series when, with glee, I announced 2 weeks ago on facebook I'd be riding again on September 1 (today and truthfully, I rode yesterday, so we could get these pictures). I'd been sidelined 4 months with my cardiac adventure, and I briefly described my routine for getting my mare, Kessy, back in shape after our time off. A few friends asked what I do to restart a horse, so I figured it might make an interesting series.

This is the final installment of that 4 part series about restarting an idle horse. The first 3 parts discussed and demonstrated ground work exercises to release, relax and help create proper body carriage, posture and self awareness. The focus of this series is restarting a horse after time off, but these exercises are excellent any time, and I recommend them for every horse care givers routine. Many of them I do every time before I ride. Always. I do not believe in lunging as warm up, rather I do these exercises.
First ride after 4 months off, Kessy and Saturday are lovin' it! Me too! She really is walking, she's just walkin' big!
Some folks say horses in big pastures or in track system Paddock Paradise type living don't need to be restarted. In my opinion that's wrong. They may not be as out of shape as a stalled or small lot kept horse, but they are not fit to ride any sort of time or distance. If we want to be fair, safe and healthy. Sure we may get away with just tossing on the saddle and heading out for an hour or two ride after a horse has been idle a few months, not only is it not fair, but the damage we do will eventually catch up with us. And our horse.

It's important for the health of your horse to get them back in shape for rides; a horse loses its cardio fitness in about 30 days, muscles about the same, and tendon, bone in about 90 days. I started Kessy's restart 2 weeks ago with the carrot stretches, and shared them on our Coffee Clutch blog. Then for the past 10 days I've done each of the exercises we've discussed in parts 1, 2 and 3 of this series once a day, exactly in the order I showed them. 

The entire routine takes Kessy and me 30 minutes now. The first days it took 40 minutes, for even though she has a Paddock Paradise, she was somewhat out of shape. I even found stiffness in her neck and hind legs, not really noticeable by just watching her, but by golly the exercises sure brought it to light. She improved quickly and by days 5 and 6 was close to back to her limber self, but even this morning she told me her hind legs were not yet perfect.

Imagine had I simply tossed on the saddle and went merrily along for an hour's ride, without the days of restart exercises, the stress it would have put on tight muscles and tendons. Sure she'd have done what I asked because she trusts me and is trained to, but she'd not have enjoyed it, and the discomfort would have chipped away at her trust and enthusiasm. I wonder how many horses are disciplined and sent for training, or sold, because their owners misunderstood their expressions of discomfort for bad behavior.

So now we're back in the in the saddle and I'm taking in the world from the best seat God ever gave us. But we're still getting back in shape. Yea me too, but I'm not the important one here. We start with 15 minute rides every day for about a week. Some folks say that's silly for a horse that was as fit as Kessy before the idle time. But it's not.

There is much that needs to happen in those first rides back. Think about all the areas the tack touches, the big muscles along the spine, the girth area, even the headstall, all are out of shape and need to come back. And every part of her needs to readjust to carrying weight, her back, legs, muscles, bones, heart, lungs, tendons and feet. And her vascular system. So 15 minutes a day for about a week, preferably on a trail so it's not in a ring always turning, is the first step.

Oh and I reckon I should mention here, I'm not a fan of lunging, for exercise, or any reason, so that's why it's not part of our routine. Don't like round pens either, but that's a subject for another day. And yes, I believe even show horses are better served on the trail than the ring. In fact I believe for every hour in the ring there should be 2 on the trail.

 As I said, our first rides this week will be 15 – 20 minutes over the same course I walked for my cardio rehab. The following week we'll add time, about 10 minutes every other day, and mix in a little terrain change, and begin to ask for a little gaiting, about 3 – 5 minutes a time. 

The week after that we'll add more distance, a little more gaiting and more terrain change. By mid-week 4 we should be comfortably up to an hour with 15 – 20 minutes of gaiting. It takes about 30 days to get a horse minimally fit … when I trained for CTC and Endurance I learned it takes 60 days for cardio, 90 – 120 for muscle and a year for bone and tendon to condition.

All along I'll continue the exercises, and by the end of the month I can fine tune the exercises to the top-line exercises, pretty neck, the one step and rock back, which I do every time before I ride. I do the leg and circle pulls and the rest every now and then. Cool down, I'll do the top-line again.

So there you have it, the way I like to restart, or simply maintain a horse. Of course there's a lot more, but I gotta go ride, and you've probably had all of me you can take. Kessy and I hope you enjoyed this little series, and will incorporate these great exercises into your daily routine.
End of our first ride on the restart, we wish you happy trails!
Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry

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