Changing up your horse’s activities can be better for his body and mind than giving him time off. Biomechanics expert Hilary Clayton, BVMS, PhD, explains why.
NOVEMBER 9 2020
In Australia we have a saying that goes, “A change is as good as a spell.” It means that if you are feeling tired, don’t stop and rest---do something different. Now, if you’re exhausted from cleaning stalls, switching to cleaning water buckets probably doesn’t sound particularly restful, but the “change is good” principle is worth keeping in mind when training horses.
Developing new skills, whether they are needed to succeed in competition or to simply perform well as a trail or pleasure horse, does require a bit of work. And the best route often involves drills designed to produce incremental improvements in movement, gait or fitness with each session. It then becomes easy to adopt a mindset that makes meeting goals the priority while minimizing other considerations.
“Riders want to practice and refine their skills, and they are probably worried about disrupting the training program if they do anything but formally train,” says Hilary M. Clayton, BVMS, PhD, DACVSMR, FRCVS, who held the Mary Anne McPhail Dressage Chair in Equine Sports Medicine at Michigan State University for 17 years. “So every day they go into the arena, perform the same routine, then take the horse back to the stall.”
This kind of routine can take a toll on a horse, both mentally and physically. Not only is he likely to get bored, but his muscles, tendons and ligaments don’t have time to fully recover from the demands placed on them. If a horse is asked to exert himself in the same way day after day, then his body doesn’t have a chance to repair itself, which means that tiny injuries accumulate...
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