Women & Horses Women & Horses (tm)  by Mary D. Midkiff

Send this page to a friend!



read previous newsletters

The Women & Horses Newsletter - March 2005

Understanding Conditioning as You Prepare
to Use Your Horse More Actively

I thought it was a good time of the year to discuss conditioning your horse and what that means. A horse is in proper condition when he is fit and sound to do the job he is asked to do. There are many levels of conditioning a horse can maintain and be perfectly suited to his work and it will be helpful if you learn the physical, emotional and mental aspects of your horse's character year in and year out to help him stay sound and enjoy his work for many many years.

First of all your horse has to be healthy and comfortable before he can perform any job with a rider on his back. His teeth, jaw and mouth must be professionally floated at least once per year to insure proper mastication of food and comfort with a properly fitted bit. His mouth health will include a level biting and chewing surface, no lessions or abcesses causing pain and inflamation, no sharp hooks or edges, no chipped or broken teeth, no dead teeth which need removing. Horses with mouth problems will experience constant headaches, TMJ pain, neck pain, become head shy and even become dangerous out of pain. The horse's breath should smell grassy and organic with no sign of a septic smell.

His body should be in alignment so that health and circulation can pass successfully from head to tail, foot to heart and throughout the spinal system. A veterinary chiropractor should check your horse thoroughly at least a couple of times per year to insure a healthy skeletal system. Horse's ribs do move and they can easily dislodge a rib which causes discomfort and severe pain especially under the saddle. They can easily dislocate a rib or a vertebrae just by playing or rolling out in the field or being cast in their stall, especially during mud season.

His feet should be trimmed or shod every 6 weeks if you plan to ride him. Make sure you have a reputable farrier that is professionally trained and knows how to balance a horse's foot properly and not follow trends. In moist climates take care of the foot by watching for and treating thrush. In dry climates keep the foot well oiled and moisturized to prevent cracking and shrinkage.

Your horse should be getting plenty of good quality grass hay and a proper amount of low protein grain depending on his weight, his metabolism and how hard he is working. He should always have access to fresh water and mineral salt block. Supplements are up to individual owners. I enjoy giving soy or rice bran oil as a lubricant for a healthy coat. Otherwise I am very much a hay, grain and water caregiver. Unless you know of a particular mineral deficiency in your area keep feeding your horse simply. Older horses and lactacting mares have special needs you should discuss with your veterinarian.

Make sure you are always feeding your horses low and in a grazing position. I have created a new indoor/outdoor hay feeder which will be out on the market soon to encourage low, clean, aerated, well drained feeding. Until this feeder comes out do not use hay racks or hay feeders which are placed above the horse's shoulders. He will get debris and dust in his sinuses, ears and eyes and he will not be grabbing and chewing his food properly. Horses were designed to always be eating from the ground, so take this into consideration.

You should also be de-worming your horses every 8 weeks interchanging a Strongid paste and an ivermectin product every few months.

Once you have these basics well in hand you can start focusing on bringing your horse into work. Many people don't ride in the winter and may be starting from several months of lay off, others ride lightly through the winter and are looking to bump up their program into the Spring.

Start by working with your horse in a round pen or enclosed area situation where you can work on your communication skills with your horse once again. He should be able to walk, trot and canter quietly and safely around you equally in each direction. If he wants to play a bit that is fine too, allow him to have fun and express himself. Notice if he looks comfortable in movement and if his whole body and muscles are moving in unison as he goes around you. If you notice he is having difficulty stretching his head down or if he is cocking his head to one side or the other and doesn't want to stretch out and down straight ahead he may have some pain or tightness issues going on in his muscles or soft tissue. You will need to examine this yourself or have a professional massage therapist or rolfer come in and give him a therapeutic session. If he is having difficulty with soundness or tightness in free work he certainly will be uncomfortable with you and a saddle on him.

When a horse is in top condition they will be able to move quietly, softly, forward with the ability to stretch their head and neck out and down toward the ground in all gaits. They will appear loose and free in all of their joints with all of their muscle groups well toned and supple. His focus should be on his work and on you and not constantly appearing as though he wants to escape the environment. This is usually a sign of emotional trouble.

Emotional issues are another layer of understanding with horses. When all else is good but you still are not getting a horse that is happy and focused in his work, I look to his emotions and his nervous system. At this point I will assess what I think the basis of the problem is. Is it insecurity? pain? bad memories? Fears? Misbehavior? Nervousness and tension? What is the missing piece? I will then go to my Bach Flowers book and look up the symptoms of what is going on with this particular horse and if need be, discuss his past with his owner. Is there something going on in his herd that I should know about? Maybe he is being intimidated and beaten up by another horse and it is really affecting his ego. I will also consult my essential oils charts and look for help there too.

Once I have decided what the emotional issues may be, I concoct a potion or simply go to my health food store and buy a potion which is pre-made. If I decide to go with Bach Flower Essence I will put a couple of drops under the horse's tongue before I work him. If it's an oil I will put a tiny drop in each nostril. I can also add some of the potion to his water daily. I will do this treatment for 2 weeks consistently. And make note of the differences I experience. After the two weeks I will take him off of the potion and see what I've got. I have been pleasantly amazed to see the differences the potions make. They are all natural products, these are not drugs or doping in any way. They simply provide the emotional balance needed. I will be making my own oils and selling them through my website for both horse and rider in a couple of months so stay tuned!

If your horse is blowing with extended nostrils after your initial workouts you will know he needs some aerobic work in addition to his ground work. If you have a swimming pool for horses nearby this is an excellent way to give their lungs a good workout. Otherwise start by taking long walks together either in hand or mounted. After a week or so start adding in 5 minute trot sets and doing 20 minutes worth of mounted arena work. After a couple of weeks add in trotting poles in your arena work and start asking him to really lift his joints with you on his back. This will enocurage him to stretch out and round his back with your weight added.

If you start all of this work now you will be into April with a generally fit horse. If you plan to use your horse for trail riding and pleasure a few times per week you can continue on this program and he will stay in good shape. Perhaps adding in some hills at least once per week will help him sustain good pelvic and stifle health as well.

If you plan to compete your horse this is the time to bump everything up a notch and commit to working your horse at least 4 days per week. You will start adding in 45 minute arena workouts with trotting poles and canter figure eights varrying the workout allowing your horse to carry you in a stretched frame and in a slightly collected frame off and on. He should be able to do all of this within a 45 minute time period without getting winded.

Once you have this established you can begin adding in your discipline work such as jumping or lateral work or reining patterns or roping or whatever job you will be asking of your horse. You will be into the month of May by this time if all has gone as planned. Your horse should be showing abdominal muscle tone and development as well as muscle definition in his haunches and neck. The wither area should be full and well muscled with the spine showing above the muscles in the back.

Your horse's forearms and gaskins should be showing some muscle development as well. The horse's coat should be fully shed out if you have been grooming with a shedding blade, curry and a full set of hard and soft brushes. His skin should be soft and bounce back when you pinch it if he is properly hydrated.

If your horse is going on to higher level competition or racing you will be working your horse at least 5 days per week and adding in electroytes to his water and or feed. Make sure you are protecting his tendons properly and giving him plenty of healthy riding support. Remember the well conditioned horse always appears free, loose, well toned and focused. Tightness, tension, heavy sweating, popping veins and heavy breathing does not indicate a top conditioned horse. Horses that are at the top of their game mentally, physically and emotionally are able to settle into comfort even when they are stressed to do a big job at high speed or with high difficulty.

This is where we have to be a good partner to ensure he achieves at his work but with a good sense of well being to carry us for many, many years.

Happy Riding,

~ Mary

female equestrian fitness training and riding tips

Mary Midkiff, 1119 Merrick Drive #362a, Lexington KY 40502
Copyright 2023. All rights reserved. Phone: 502-552-1195 - Email - Contact
Order Women & Horses Products