Conditioning is the key to avoiding injuries in the competition arena. If your horse is prime condition, not only are they going to perform better but you’ll also avoid injuries that can come with the stresses of performing.
Check with your vet first to make sure your horse is healthy and sound enough to begin a performance conditioning program. Your vet can help you determine what weaknesses your horse may have that may need special consideration. Ask your vet to give you a true assessment of your horse’s condition so that can develop a training routine.
Conditioning is not only about increasing stamina or strength in your horse but it’s also about hardening your horse’s tendons and bones. With proper conditioning, tendons and bones become more resilient and less likely to break down when competing.
Think of conditioning your horse just like you would condition yourself for triathlon training. If you have a desk job and haven’t worked out, you would think it was unreasonable for you to suddenly run twenty miles. Most likely you would not only be quickly winded but would also have shin splints and torn muscles. In order to accomplish running that distance without injury you would have to start by simply walking and gradually work your way up to running with gradual increases in distance.
Horses are no different. While they are seemingly strong, large animals they require the same gradual conditioning process that we do. Once you have a true assessment of your horse’s condition, sit down and plan out a gradual training regime for your horse. How long should your walking warm up be? What distance or time do you think your horse is capable of trotting? What about cantering? What physical signs do you want to see before you increase the distance? These are all questions that you need to answer in order to start planning your horse’s conditioning program.
Because you’re progressively asking more of your horse, periodically review your feeding program. Is your horse getting an appropriate level of protein, fat and other nutrients for what you are asking your horse to do? Do those nutrients support muscles and bones at this level of conditioning? Is your horse hydrated enough? If you’re not sure about your horse’s nutritional needs check with your vet and a feed nutritionist to verify your horse is getting what they need.
Conditioning to win takes not only discipline but also planning and preparation. Taking the time to plan your horse’s training regime and then monitoring the results along the way will help ensure that you compete with a fit and sound horse.