Equine Athletes Must Be Built & Then Maintained

A horse’s performance under saddle is dependent on much more than meets the eye. Karlie Mitchell outlines some facets of a well-rounded maintenance program for your hardworking horse.

Photo: Flickr/Andrew Pescod/Creative Commons License

The power, strength, and ability of an equine athlete is a marvelous thing. These athletes are built through training and conditioning programs, but this is where the key maintenance factor must come in.

Think about a new truck. You buy a new truck to haul the trailer to shows, but that is just the beginning. The oil must be changed on that truck, tires have to be replaced, tires have to be balanced, sometimes air must be added to tires, fluids have to be regularly checked and filled. As this vehicle runs and works its wears down. Proper maintenance keeps this vehicle from completely breaking down. Oil gets low, but if you add some before it runs out you can prevent engine damage.

Now think about your horse… as your horse puts on miles he or she requires maintenance to keep from breaking down, too. Here are some major areas I focus on for maintenance on my equine athlete.

Nutrition and Feed

Did you know working/training/competing/traveling horses’ nutritional demands can triple from when idle? Nutrition is crucial because it fuels every part of your horse. Coat, skin, muscle, energy, weight, hooves and more can be affected by simple nutritional deficiencies.

This is where it gets complicated because every situation is unique. I’ve found out from soil samples that my area is generally deficient of certain things one being selenium. Selenium is a tricky thing to deal with. Too much can kill a horse, yet too little can affect their muscular system, and in between is a fine line of what they need.

I’m not big on processed feeds because of some of the ingredients they can contain; however, I found a low-sugar, “not a lot of crap in it” ration to supplement daily to fill some of the gaps my pasture and hay have nutrition-wise. Now that’s daily on idle terms. Once my horse is in use his supplement is increased along with his feed. I factor in what he needs to keep a good weight, support muscular development, keep a good energy level, and little things to help his digestion along like probiotics. Not all horses are the same; some just need a little help along the way of training and competing while others need a lot more in the feed department.


Photo: Flickr/tonkatoy/Creative Commons License


Ever see those beautiful photos of a horse in action galloping, jumping, cutting or performing a canter pirouette or sliding stop? Look closely at how the joints are working. It can be very visibly clear sometimes the force and torque they are under. There are plenty of joint supplements on the market today to help slow down deterioration of the horse’s joints.


Photo: Flickr/Franz Venhaus/Creative Commons License


This one is related to joints. Having the horse maintained at proper hoof length, angle and shape keeps the hoof functioning properly and preventing damage to legs and joints. A crooked hoof, for example, can cause extra strain on a joint therefore speeding up joint deterioration.


Photo: Flickr/StormSignal/Creative Commons License

Cross Training

Giving a horse a break from one event is not only for mental purposes. Allowing them to still work and condition but under a different activity gives the body a break and can develop them further along physically than just doing one activity.


Photo: Leslie Wylie/Horse Nation

Equine Therapy

Through all the work, strain and impact horses can become misaligned. Even just a slip running in the pasture can cause misalignment. Equine therapy keeps the horse balanced and comfortable. Not only does a balanced horse perform better, but it keeps other issues from arising. One misalignment can cause havoc through the whole horse. Think about a right front shoulder issue. Horses move in diagonals so the left hind hip will likely also be affected.


Photo: Flickr/jdj150/Creative Commons License


Little injuries masked with a painkiller or simply pushed through can lead to complete breakdowns. Would you rather give your horse six weeks off to heal a small strain or keep pushing and end up taking six months off when it gets worse?

Always be aware and assess your horse physically. If needed give them a break to heal. Horses can really tell us a lot about how they feel or what is bothering them — we just have to listen and care. Listening to your horse and maintaining an athlete (not just creating one) will bring you a longer, more successful time with that horse.

Do you really need that 4-year-old jumping three feet? Does that 2-year-old need to be doing sliding stops already? If we can take our time maybe that 4-year-old will still be jumping at 15 and not retired. Waiting a couple years to finish that young horse off in reining training, for example, could mean many extra years in the show pen for that horse.

Through training, showing, competing or whatever it is you do remember every time we ask our horse for more and more we have to give back to them. Keep giving back to that horse and maintaining it and it may have more for you in the long run.


Photo: Leslie Wylie/Horse Nation

About Karlie: I am from Alberta, Canada and live on a farm with my equine crew (a Paint, QHx Arab, and two OTTBs). I mainly do English and jumping, but also enjoy western and trail riding. I love riding, training, learning about Equine Science related topics, and having a great time with my horses.


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