Long long ago, the FEI horse manager for a vaulting team I worked for taught me that his horses were only to be put under full vaulting pressure twice a week, and the rest of the week he had professionals lightly but efficiently cross train them, both in dressage and low level jumping land to work on their balance, power, flexibility, and carrying ability. Plus they trail rode to develop their accessory stabilizers and smooth muscles. He read a lot of Dr Klimpke and he had done this a long time. When he quit managing the horses were then used for vaulting 4 days a week and all broke down within 3 months. The next FEI team i worked for was in his neighborhood and former associates of his. They required me to help dressage the horses 2 days a week, trail ride once a week, use them for vaulting twice a week. They had watched and learned. It was all more simple when we could stand back objectively looking at just the job of developing these horses as athletes and it was not our personal mount. Keystone Equine's post reminds me of these concepts. We don't all get to trail ride our horses. But we can do long long walks, hack around the barn and fields even if we have to lead them at first, and keep in mind the need for them to use their bodies in different ways to support the whole package.
We ride and train our horses. We put them to work so that we can enjoy the facet of horsemanship that most appeals to us. This is not always easy on the horses and they often become sore. So, what do we do?
We call the vet and order the 'routine' injections. We call the massage therapist. We book the equine chiropractor or osteopath and ask them to fix the horse.
Then, we go back to our same old riding and training. Rinse and repeat. While I am in no way telling you to turn your horses into lawn ornaments, I want to ask a simple question.
Does your horse sport—your use—hurt your horses in the long term? If so, what can you do—starting now—to reduce this?
Maybe the arena ridden horse needs downtime in pasture turnout, daily, along with riding the trails. Maybe his barrel racing saddle with its notoriously uncomfortable short bars could be more often swapped out for a regular stock saddle, to reduce the pounds per square inch on his loins? Maybe our tense jumper would benefit from more slow and mindful dressage, without side reins, without competition goals? Maybe our walk-trot pony would benefit hugely from being ridden by someone who will ask it for a sustained and healing canter?
Maybe the horse who is doing a job with repetitive body movement can learn a job that uses his body differently, to help compensate wear and tear on the same soft tissues and joints? Maybe we could teach our horses to carry us in a more efficient manner? Maybe it’s as simple as stopping with the bull-headedness and leading the horse over to the corral rails or a mounting block, instead of hauling ourselves up into the saddle?
There is much written work about training for straightness and developing a horse’s body to its full potential. There is so much we can do to encourage the entire horse to relieve that one, sore, overworked body part, that place where he will eventually break down.
It always surprises me that the horses ordered to recuperate with hand-walking exercise are not taught to be led equally from both sides! But no, we lead them for hours while they load their shoulders unevenly...
We ride and train our horses. Then, we expect paid professionals to fix them. What if the number one goal in our schooling was to lengthen the useful lives and prolong the wellbeing of our good horses? What, then?
I believe in doing whatever is necessary to have my horses serve me comfortably. This includes paying for professional help. Where I have a problem, where I feel there’s an unspoken problem, is when our horses need ongoing body work and injections—the same things, over and over—without end.
The question is this: how are we riding on a daily basis, to make our horses more—or less—unwell?