Today's Quote

“If people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.” Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Bringing a Horse Up from Pasture (Back to Work)

As I am sure I have mentioned previously the horses have not really been worked in the past several years. When we decided to start farming it took every little bit of time to get where we are and get into new schedules with all the new critters, gardens, food preservation etc. Now that we have settled in somewhat I am ready to start working with my ponies again. I didn't realize how badly I missed that until I started helping my friend with her new horses. Since this isn't my first rodeo with bringing an unfit pasture ornament back into real work, I thought I would pass on my handy dandy tips. So here they are. First start slow. Don't just throw a saddle on your horse and go out for that half a day trail ride. If you do that poor horse won't hardly be able to move for a week. When a horse has been in pasture for any length of time muscle, tendons, ligaments and bone must be strengthened back up for the workload expected of them. I like to start with a refreshment course in stable manners. Stand politely while you are groomed, fly sprayed etc., don't be pushy...those sorts of things. Make sure that you have taken care of the basics such as attending to their health and their feet. If they aren't in that great of condition then either start giving them more calories, slowly or start them on a bit of a diet, slowly. A horse in poor condition by being either underweight or overweight will have more trouble getting back into shape. The next thing I like to do is work on the lunge line which will help to build and strengthen muscles without the added weight and strain of a rider. It also puts the horse back into the frame of mind to work. Some horses don't particularly take kindly to being brought in from vacation and this gives a nice transition without too much fuss. When starting the horse on the lunge don't just let your horse run willy nilly in circles around you. I like for the circle to actually be an oval (yes this means you have to work too) as it is easier on the joints and tendons that are out of shape. Start by walking, lots of walking. Then you can move into periods of trotting mixed with walking. Depending on how long the horse has been out of work will determine how long this period is. My best advice is not to rush it. If you and the horse need a change of scene then pick a different pasture or area to work in. Work both directions to work both sets of muscles on the horse. You can start with 20 minute workouts and work up to one hour. As the time period gets longer then increase the trotting time within that time frame. You can introduce some walk/trot/walk transitions which will help to balance the horse along with building muscle along the back and rear. Once the horse is comfortably lunging for an hour with little signs of fatigue then you can start riding. Start by walking for about 30 minutes and build from there. Just the act of carrying a rider is fatiguing to an unfit horse and most horses out in pasture have weak back muscles so take the time to let those back muscles get stronger to prevent back injuries. A horse with a bad back is not fun to have around. I rode one for a trainer for awhile and it seemed like more days than not I was tending to a bad back rather than being in the saddle. So don't feel bad for just are doing valuable muscle building and training which will save you a lot of heartache in the future. Next you can add some trot work and hills into your walk to build even more muscles and exercise those tendons and ligaments. Once the horse is comfortably handling a good hour to hour and a half of walking and trot work then you can begin to move into whatever discipline is your chosen one. If you even or jump you can start some canter work and work over cavaletti's. If you do barrels then you can start some canter work and work around your pattern. Whatever you do take the time to recondition the horse slowly, it will save lameness and other problems in the long run and make for a much happier willing partner. If the horse associates you with pain (sore muscles, bruised tendons, etc.) then they are much less likely to be happy to see you when you head out with the halter. BC has been out of work for years and I know that I have to take it real slow with him. We have been working on the lunge for a couple of weeks now. At first a 30 minute walk had him in a real sweat. Now, he is handling an hour of walk/trot work on the lunge with less sweat than he started with. He is also balancing himself much better which tells me that the muscles are getting stronger and more used the work being asked. Next, week he will go in loose side reins and then the week after we will start with slow saddle work. I expect it will be this fall before we really start any serious dressage work and even then eventing fitness. However, BC has been out for much longer and it will be slow going. I have to say though it feels good to just be working with him and spending time with him. Blessings, Kat

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