Our Guidelines for Bringing a Horse Back to Work
After a winter of being turned out and not ridden consistently, there are certain procedures that should be followed in bringing your horse back to consistent work. We follow the guidelines set by the British Horse Society. They have a comprehensive book called, “The BHS Complete Manual of Stable Management” and it has many useful procedures on how to take care of your horse and tack. We don’t take their suggestions as absolute gospel, but translate their ideas into what we feel works for our horses and us. They have a wonderful plan for a young, healthy and sound horse, but it would be too time consuming for us to adhere to with so many horses to bring back into work, and needs to be modified for older horses or those who may have soundness issues. Following is their suggestion and below our translation:
Suggested Exercise for an Unfit, Overweight Horse After Several Months at Grass
Walking exercise on the level. Half an hour on the first day, increasing to one hour by the end of the first week.
10-15 minutes total walking on the longe line in a level ring, increasing to 30 minutes total by the end of the week.
Increase walking up to 1 hour by the end of the week.
2o-30 minutes total walking interspersed with limited trotting.
Slow trotting, starting on the level, together with walking up and down hills.
Increase gradually to ½ hour total walking and trotting alternately. This is also generally when we begin to add the tack to get them used to saddles and bridles again, though at this time we do not use any training devices attached to the bit.
As third week.
We agree and do the same. At this time, we also begin to get on the horses and walk them under tack on alternate days as described in “1st Week” above, increasing the walking up to an hour by the end of the week.
1 ½ hours exercise a day, to include some trotting up hills and short, slow cantering on good, level ground.
We’re not big fans of longeing a horse for more than ½ an hour because of the stress continual circling can place on the legs, so we work 15 minutes in each direction of walking, trotting and slow cantering, alternating every other day with light ridden work (walk and easy trot) as in “3rd Week” above up to 1 hour. When working on the longe, now would be the appropriate time to add training aids such as a loosely fitted chambon (we don’t ever recommend side reins or balancing reins like the Pessoa system...) while longeing; however, they should only be used at walk and trot.
1 ½ hours exercise a day, to include trotting up hills and longer cantering periods. School work may include jumping and canter circles.
Basically as above; 1 hour+ a day - or every other day if continuing on the longe - to include the usual walk, trot, canter with some mild hill-work, ground poles and/or cavalletti added in. Toward the end of the last week we may begin jumping or adding more collected work for those horses who are able. Don’t forget: if you are careful and have good control of your horse, you may longe over cavalletti and jumps as well! It is also not a bad idea to follow a day of more intensive work with an easy day to give the horse a chance to recover and keep him from getting sour.
' Donnie '
A lot of this walking and slow fittening work can be done outside of the arena to prevent both horse and rider from getting too bored. We also sometimes create an easy “obstacle course” in the arena or around the farm consisting of cavelltti, cones, gates, tarps, etc. to keep things interesting while doing all that walking. After completing these exercises, your pasture-puff should be able to start being ridden at a walk, trot and eventually canter up and down hills, over small fences, with increased collection on the flat, on longer trails, etc. without the predisposition to being injured after a long winter of idleness. It takes a long time to get in shape after just “hanging out” for months, so we try not to rush it. I’ve seen cases where horses have been pulled out of the field or their stall after a layoff and put back to work as if they’d never had a day off, and they almost always ended up with an injury that interrupted or even sidelined their entire showing season, not to mention risking their future soundness. A little patience at the beginning is the price we pay to keep our horses happy, healthy and sound for life.
' Dusty '
There are a few other things to remember as well: as when bringing a horse back from an injury, if your horse is overweight in addition to being unfit, it is crucial to start very slowly. Putting a horse in this condition on the longe is not recommended because working on a circle puts undue strain on muscles, tendons and joints. For such horses, light longeing may be started after two weeks hand-walking and/or very light walking under saddle, but starting with 5 minutes of walking on either side will be all that is needed to start getting them back into shape when you longe. We start our horses back on the longe because they are basically fit from being turned out all day and moving around on their own. They keep themselves in decent shape and they are not overfed. Just ask them! ;-)
Have fun getting your horse/horses in shape for a fun and healthy season of riding.
Until next time
Quote for Today
A horse is like a violin, first it must be tuned, and when tuned it must be accurately played