Placing demands on a horse when he is not able to fulfill them is (often non-intentional) cruelty. Horses are not naturally 'born to be ridden', they need to be enabled to do their job.
Do you have a plan or schedule in place to strategically plan activities that will help ensure your horse's wellness and soundness? If you are actively competing, you probably do. But all horses can benefit from an individually designed wellness program.
These elements make up the 3 key building blocks of a complete wellness program from a physical and mental fitness perspective:
Tack and Saddle Fit
Making small targeted changes in your routine can
make a big difference in maintaining your horse's soundness and ultimately
Develop and implement a targeted gymnasticizing schedule for your horse: Your program should consist of a general fitness program with individualized elements that prepare your horse for his job (trail horse, hunter/jumper, dressage horse, etc.)
Check tack at regular intervals: Don't wait for tack fit issues to surface as performance or behavior issues. Prevention is the key. Once your horse shows signs of discomfort or soreness, the problem has already manifested. (See saddle fit basics)
You horse's plan should be reviewed and revised on a regular basis. Your horse changes and so do his needs.
Not only sport and competition horses need a plan. Every horse benefits from a wellness plan. Keeping your horse relaxed, fit and comfortable supports his soundness and prevents structural damage caused by restrictions or demands put on the horse when it is not fit to fulfil them.
Below an example Horse Wellness schedule:
7 year old quarter horse gelding
Ridden by an intermediate beginner rider, trained to first level dressage, but curently used as trail horse and for riding lessons with the owner
Current challenge: horse moves stiffly, especially in the neck, rushes in the trot; currently ridden mostly in the walk and losing condition/muscle tone
Goal: enable suppleness and flexibility as well as stamina and encourage horse's enthusiasm for forward movement without rushing
March 10, March 25 by practitioner; owner works on poll and girth area as part of grooming routine
April 8, April 23 by practitioner; owner as March
May 5th: thorough evaluation of horse, readjustement of schedule/plan, if needed
3 x 20 minutes per week free lunging in a roundpen, asking for fresh forward movement in walk, trot/canter segments according to horse's fitness
3 x 20 minutes per week lunging* on a large circle on a lunge line as in March, incorporate ground poles, encourage long and low, light bend; light riding
2 x 20 minutes per week lunging* as in April, 1 x 20 minutes per week free lunging over cavaletti and small jumps in trot and canter; hacking out at least once per week; reevaluate
Tack and saddle fit check and necessary changes to tack/saddle, if needed
Tack check, record any changes (next tack check in July)
* I recommend lunging for gymnasticizing purposes with a lunging caveson or a mild (full cheek) snaffle (no caveson, if bit is used) or a web/leather halter with a light, flat cotton webbing lunge line and always without any kind of auxiliary reins such as side-reins or chambons. No rope halters/heavy lunge lines with heavy buckles. They put undue pressure on the horse's poll and—while they can be useful training aids—do not lend themselves for the purpose of gymnasticizing since discomfort in the poll will contribute to a negative self-carriage.
If you'd like guidance and support in creating a tailored Horse Wellness plan for your horse, please email me.
The above exercises are beneficial in my own personal opinion. Please ensure fitness of your horse for any exercises described on this website by consulting your veterinarian, if in doubt. Equine Massage is NEVER a substitute for proper veterinary care. If you are in doubt about the physical condition of your horse, please consult a veterinarian.