Winter is still here, but spring is coming (the onset of my horses’ shedding is proof!). Get ready for riding season by getting your horses back into shape and refreshing their skills. Here are some tips from our good friends at SmartPak:
Originally published in the SmartPak blog. Written by SmartPaker Jamie Magallanes.
Even though snow season is still upon us, the end is near! After the last couple of snows, it will be time to hop back in the saddle and get ready for show season. As we all come out of hibernation, both me and my horses need a bit of a “defrost”. We must get back in shape and work on our skills from last year! It’s hard not to just jump back into training as if winter never happened. But for me and my horse it’s very important to ease back into the ring to avoid injury to both of us.
1. Turn Out (to get it out)
Getting my horse legged back up after some time off is all a patience game. I like to start out simple with just some extended turnout time. Even if the snow hasn’t melted all the way yet, it is good for them to get out of the stalls and into a bigger pasture or paddock area to stretch their legs. If your horse has already been on long hours of turnout through out the winter, then that’s great! You’ve already got a head start on me.
2. Review the Basics
Once my horse has been on turnout for a few days to release all the “silly” energy, it’s time to get to business. Hand walking and lunging are usually my next go-to step in getting back into things. I usually spend about a week’s worth of sessions re-establishing our respect for one another and ground manners. I believe everything starts on the ground, so some good ground work refresher training is always a must coming back! This signals to my horse that it is time to get back to work and it also gives us a strong foundation to the rest of the season. I tend to rely on my trusty round pen for a lot of this work, but if that is not an option, then SmartPak can help! The Shires Lunge Line (#26734) is a very inexpensive tool to help keep those circles nice and you can even adjust the length up to 26 feet. You can use it for smaller circles when you need your horse to pay attention or do some tight turns. Or let the slack out and do some longer lunge lining for a more cardio based workout. This paired with the Dublin Lunge Whip (#28637) will make for a nice training session.
(For a more ‘complete set’ of training equipment, SmartPak recently created the SmartPak Training Package (#26997), too!)
3. Back in the Saddle, Slowly
After the ground work has been established and my horse has had some time to brush the dust off his muscles, it’s time to ride! I start out slow, letting my horse stretch the muscles back out and really loosen up before we get into the nitty gritty of our discipline. The first week or two I like to do just some casual walking, including over poles or up hills as they’re available. These rides can range in time, but I try to keep upping the amount of saddle time to increase our fitness and ensure we’re both mentally in the game, too!
Once we’ve established that, I move on to trotting, and slow loping all different size circles. I keep the motions big and loose without any hard stops or sharp turns, even when running through specific exercises. This helps my horse continue to get their mind back in the game, listening, and remembering all our cues without putting any unnecessary strain on stiff muscles or joints.
Stretching the muscles back out after some time off can help avoid injuries as well. I like to think about it in human terms– if I was to start going to the gym again, I wouldn’t go right in and start maxing out my weight lifts or sprinting marathons! It takes time to get back into shape and starting off slow will help rebuild without straining. Along with slow arena work, I really like to do long trail rides. Slow and steady walking and trotting. These long conditioning rides will help with endurance and getting back into shape. Plus it is always super fun going for a trail ride!
After a few weeks of slow and steady conditioning, it’s finally time to start lifting heavy! Depending on your discipline, I’d consider it time to start tuning up for the show ring. I run barrels, so my horse and I start working the pattern and doing different exercises and drills to make sure we are both in tune to each other and making the best possible run. This is also where the supplements my horse takes come into play.
I really like to supplement with joint support all year long. I believe that this helps them with any sort of strains or stress we put on them all throughout the year and even in the off season. I love the SmartStride Ultra Pellets (#25105) the most for this reason. The new and revolutionary ingredients such as turmeric and resveratrol are great for supporting a normal response to inflammation. Around this time, I also like to throw in the SmartMuscle Recovery Pellets (#22435) to my horse’s SmartPaks. Coming back into work, I know they may be sore or have some sort of muscle discomfort, so this supplement provides ingredients such as tart cherry, DMG, magnesium and vitamin E to all help support muscle discomfort associated with exercise. I really feel like this helps my horses to feel their best while getting back into shape.
Giving my horse a winter of no or limited work can be so beneficial for his mental health, but getting him horse legged back up after the winter season off is no easy task! It really takes a lot of patience and planning to get back on track for the rest of the season. It is important to take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of your horse and for yourself (and working with your veterinarian if you’re not sure what the best steps are for your goals or your horse’s specific program). Pushing them too hard, too quickly can lead to injury for both horse and rider, so it’s better to take the time in the beginning to have a great rest of the year. I hope you’re all enjoying getting back in the saddle and getting ready for another year of great rides ahead!
You can find this and more on the SmartPak blog. Go SmartPak and go riding!