We all need a break from time to time, but getting back in the saddle is tough. Here’s how to resume training with your horse after time off.
Getting back in the saddle after a while away can feel daunting. But we all need a break from time to time, and the same goes for your horse! Whether you took a vacation, had a rest period, or were recovering from an injury, knowing how to properly resume training with your horse after an extended period off isn’t an exact science. That being said, we have some tips to help you out. Read on to learn more.
Slow and easy is always the fastest way
As with any other sport, resuming equestrian training and competition must be gradual and conservative. For example, no one can run a marathon after a month of inactivity.
Humans and horses’ bodies are different of course, but both get out of shape after a break from physical activity. Starting slowly is important to prevent injuries that would delay the process and reduce the risk of future injuries. Besides, you have the psychological factor for both athletes on the team. As a rider, you may be more anxious to return to your previous level and pick up where you left off. That’s why you, as the rational member of the team, should make a reasonable plan to go back to work.
Coming back after a seasonal break or an injury
If we consider a typical seasonal break or a recovery from a mild injury, we are talking about a horse that was inactive for about two or three months. It’s important to note that a horse needs approximately two months to reach its full cardiovascular and respiratory capacity and up to four months for the muscles and skeleton to fully recover.
The first step is to make a plan and stick to it. If your horse was inactive because of an injury, it’s best to talk with your vet and ask for help to build a tailored plan and monitor according to the type and severity of the injury. If the injury wasn’t grave, and your vet decides your horse is fully recovered, you can go ahead. But definitely keep in touch with the vet as you begin to resume training with your horse.
Important things to consider
Have your horse checked by your vet and ensure that your horse is sound and healthy before starting to work. Your farrier is another vital player regarding your horse’s soundness. Ask your farrier to check your horse’s hooves’ integrity and address any problem before reshoeing them. Don’t start working with them until you have done these two things.
If your horse has been on grass and hay while off, wait a few weeks before adding grain and supplements. When the time comes, ask your vet to help you prepare a nutritional plan for your horse according to your goals, training level, size, age, breed, and weight. Don’t change diet suddenly; wait at least ten days to change it completely to prevent colics.
When resuming horses’ training, remember they don’t forget the good or bad things. No matter if you have the gentlest horse in the world or a more volatile character, you must remember that horses are excitable after recess to say the least. So, it’s advisable to spend some days with them, build up groundwork, and re-establish contact before riding. Take your time to get used to the horse, and if you haven’t ridden other horses, do some exercises on the ground, stretch your muscles and body, and don’t over-push yourself.
Don’t rush your horse; start with simple and effortless exercises, and don’t put much strain on their soft tissues during the first weeks of training. If you have to lunge your horse, do it carefully. After some time not being ridden, horses tend to be playful and buck. Don’t allow them to do it, mostly when it’s cold and they haven’t warmed up; they can hurt themselves.
A sample restart plan
Below you will find a sample work plan to resume training a healthy horse that was inactive for two or three weeks due to vacations or a mild injury:
Work with your horse on the ground, regain their trust, and do some haltering and exercises.
Remember that your horse hasn’t been working, so walk them a lot to help kickstart cardiovascular fitness. Do a lot of stretching to prepare their muscles, tendons, and ligaments for what will come in the next few weeks.
During the three last days of this week and the second week, lunge your horse. The first week, don’t ride them; just make them walk, and if you see fit, let the horse trot for 15-20 minutes. As you enter the second week, let them canter and work on transitions. Have them focus on you and your cues; it’s not a matter of tiring the horse out so that he vents energy away; it’s a matter of helping them focus and get into a working routine once again.
Weeks 2 and 3
It’s time to ride back your horse. Start slow, walking for 20 to 30 minutes every day for six days. Don’t trot them while riding until the third week.
Starting the third week, start walking for 15 minutes for decontraction and warm-up. Then start trotting for 5 minutes, the next day 10 minutes, with a couple of minutes of walking. You will end week number two by doing this exercise. Be gentle with your legs, and don’t push your horse.
During these three weeks, work in straight lines as long as possible and large circles (20 meters or wider). Don’t turn tight to reduce the risk of injuries. Focus on your horse’s suppleness and pace.
Weeks 4 and 5
Now you can start to increase the workload gradually. Do the work you have been doing in your warm-up, and start adding more and more transitions. Remember to make soft transitions; start from walk to trot and back to walk again. Start working more on 20-meter circles, and keep avoiding sharp turns. Work on your horse’s rhythm and add diagonal, lateral, and longitudinal direction changes, covering the entire arena.
If everything goes well, you can start doing some light bending, work on harder transitions, and extend and shorten the gaits. You can gradually begin to reduce the circle’s diameter by up to 10 meters. During week five, you can also start doing some canter. Start with a light seat, and avoid hard transitions from canter to trot or walk.
Weeks 6 to 10
At the start of week six, you can start increasing the lateral work and start asking your horse more and more. Remember that warm-up and cool-down are always important to keep your horse safe and prevent injuries. Depending on the discipline, you can start doing more complex exercises in case of dressage and start working with ground poles and low fences if show jumping is your specialty. Take your time, and give your horse their own time too.
This is just a sample plan to resume training with a generic horse, though no one knows your horse better than you and your coach. Talk with your trainer, vet, and fellow equestrians to help you tailor a plan to suit your horse’s and your own needs. Remember, don’t push your horse or yourself. Let things flow, and use common sense. Time will pass so quickly that before you know it, you will be competing with your best mate again.