It’s important to remember that everyone needs a break from time to time. In equestrian sports, both riders and horses need a pause like everyone else. That’s why most equestrian sports have on and off seasons. Depending on what circuit you are in and where you live, the off-season can fall in summer or winter. In this article, we will discuss how to keep your horse fit during recess, plus how to get back to work when the time comes.
Time off during winter or summer break
At amateur and semi-pro level, most equestrian sports have competition seasons and off-seasons, while high professional circuits seem to never stop. However, trainers will always schedule breaks to allow horses some time off to recover physically and mentally. Our dear equine athletes need some downtime. A break doesn’t mean training comes to a complete standstill. Horses need a routine; once they are comfortable with it, it’s hard for them to break. That’s why it wouldn’t be fair or practical to leave the horses alone without any training or work. Besides, it’s unhealthy for athletes to stop working suddenly from one day to the next. Doing so is detrimental to their soundness and can be harmful in the long run. The only reason to interrupt a horse training completely is an injury.
Transitioning from full training to downtime training
When giving your horse a break, it’s essential to consider these factors:
- Preserve the strength and suppleness of their muscles, skeleton, and tissues (like ligaments).
- Preserve their cardiovascular fitness.
- Reduce their workload gradually.
- Set a fitness level so that they can reduce their workload and return to their regular level without much effort.
- Make the plan considering the horse’s age.
- Think about the horse’s condition as a whole, and then focus on the aspects that need special attention.
The day after the last competition of the season, ride as you would any other post-competition day. After that, start reducing the duration and intensity of the training sessions. Remember the points stated above to avoid loss of muscular mass, fitness, etc.
Regardless of the discipline (show jumping, dressage, etc.), you train your horse’s cardio, muscles, and suppleness. These factors help to keep your horse’s body fit and perform better. Besides, exercise and training reduce the risk of potential injuries. Ceasing physical activity causes decay. The faster and harder you reduce it, the longer it will take your horse to recover their competitive condition. Imagine what would happen to yourself in a similar scenario. Suppose you go to the gym every day and run 10 miles a day. What would happen if one day you just stopped and, after a few months of inactivity, you signed up to run a marathon?
Veterinarians say every month a horse is off requires another month of training to recover the starting training level. If you give your horse a month’s break without interrupting work completely, for example, trailing or riding them for pleasure, they won’t need as much effort to recover.
A weekly training session is enough to preserve a horse’s muscular strength. But tendons, ligaments, and other tissues need more than that to stay healthy and in good shape. That’s why it’s crucial to make a progressive transition from competition to recess training and vice versa.
Developing your recess plan
Don’t be afraid to ask your coach and vet to help you develop a realistic recess plan for your horse. Be sure to include transitions, especially the “back to work” part. A proper transition takes about two weeks, then, you can allow your horse their well-deserved break. As their workload decreases, let them graze a lot, reduce diet supplements, and regularly follow your vet’s advice.
While off-season, ride your horse two or three times a week for 45 to 60 minutes and do pleasant and relaxing activities. Don’t fall into the temptation of attempting that shoulder-in that you have been practicing or improving your flying changes. You will have plenty of time to do it during the on-season. Focus on having fun with your horse and making them feel relaxed.
Tip: You can also consult with your vet and farrier about removing your horse’s shoes during the off-season. Your horse might be thankful, as will their hooves!
Some ideas for off-season training
Below, you will find some ideas for your off-season riding:
- Light trail rides: If location and weather allows, going out with your horse is a great idea – both physically and mentally. Getting out of the arena routine while enjoying nature is always a great idea. Besides, trail rides help horses exercise parts of their body that aren’t as stimulated when riding in a flat arena.
- Light Flatwork: During the off-season, extend warm-ups and cool-down times of your flatwork sessions. Don’t seek extreme collection. A good working trot and canter are ok to keep your horse in good shape. If they tends to collect, let it happen naturally and let them go forward and down as much as they wants.
- Relaxed Stretching: You can work on light stretching exercises and allow your horse to stretch naturally.
- Mental Break: When you’re not riding your horse, you can do groundwork, leading, and grazing. When possible, allow your horse time in the paddock or pen with plenty of water and let them graze as much as they want.