Today I thought I would dig back in my archives from some years ago to talk about conditioning. This is an article I presented quite a long time ago and that has appeared in my monthly newsletter, "Mane Tales" called 'Conditioning & Fitting To Win'. Enjoy and please comment!
"If you’ve ever seen Halter classes at some of the top National and World Championship shows, you have witnessed the art of fitting and preparing a horse. Those horses (and their handlers) don’t get to that level by slacking off when they should be doing something productive -- they put their heart and soul into presenting the most flawless picture of horseflesh imaginable.
Sure, those horses are the cream of the crop, they compete at the highest level there is. But why should that preclude you from making sure YOUR horse looks just as good?
Next month I’ll be getting into more in depth show preparation, grooming for the show ring as well as attire and appointments, but our goal here is the prep before the prep.
Most folks know horses look better when they’re in good condition -- which includes a good feeding, veterinary and deworming program in addition to the physical aspect. Not unlike us humans, the horse will always be more attractive if he’s in shape. Fitness isn’t rocket science...more like remedial studies!
Let’s get down to the basics. Now that we’ve covered what we need to accomplish, it’s time we start discussing how to accomplish it.
We have to begin with what we feed our horses. I’ve got an entire feed program designed to optimize each horse’s health and appearance, from their healthy hooves to their perfect weight to their glossy coats. There are certain staples every horse gets in their diet, then I add in special ingredients based on each animal’s individual needs. For instance, some of the older horses are on joint supplements, the harder keepers get a high fat additive, and so on.
Our veterinary maintenance is also vitally important to our horses’ appearance, beyond just ensuring they are healthy (and unfortunately we all know what sick horses look like). Horses need to be dewormed on a regular basis, anywhere from every month to every three months; they need vaccinations on a six month schedule (except for West Nile, which is annually in the Spring) and a teeth float is in order at least once a year. Consult your vet on an optimum schedule for routine care. He (or she) is your vet because you trust his (or her) judgment, right?
Once we know our horse is getting the best of care, it’s time to start fitting him on the longe line.
If he’s completely out of shape from standing around doing nothing, you need to begin with a relatively short session every day. Ten minutes is plenty for the first few days, then I usually build from there.
An example of what I do is, Day One through Day Three, warmup at the walk (sometimes I accomplish this with five or so minutes on the hotwalker before retreating to the round pen) and then a ten minute work, as follows: Trot two minutes, canter two minutes, trot one minute, reverse and repeat. Then on the hotwalker to cool out. Day Four through Day Ten we move to a fifteen minute work, with two minutes at the trot, three minutes at the canter and two and a half minutes at the trot each direction before cooling out. Day Eleven through Day Twenty One I’ll advance to twenty minutes, with two minutes at the trot, three minutes at the canter, one minute at the trot, two minutes at the canter and two minutes at the trot both ways. For the fourth week (Days Twenty Two through Twenty Eight), the working time is half an hour, measured as three minutes at the trot, three minutes at the canter, three minutes at the trot, four minutes at the canter and two minutes at the trot before reversing.
After the first month, it gets to be rather routine, even though I’ll work the horse up to 40-45 minutes each day -- and I start throwing in a day off once per week since I’ll be seeing plenty of results by now. Am I always so meticulous about exact minutes at specific gaits? Of course not. But for me, keeping track is a simple way to be sure the horse is getting an adequate workout. I view longeing for the purposes of conditioning quite differently from actual training sessions. Those can be relatively short, as long as I’m getting correct responses to what I’m asking. But building fitness in a horse is a completely different thing.
From this type of schedule, we expect to see the body toned and muscles built up. But how do we bring out the glow instilled by good feed and this new level of fitness? Elbow grease, of course!
Paramount to transforming an out of shape backyard horse into a creature worthy of competing against National Champions are good, long daily grooming sessions. My regimen includes all sorts of anecdotes for making certain my horses are in tip top shape, from head to toe (and tail). Coming up with a routine to work from ensures you will bring out the gleam and lustre of every inch of your horse, and don’t forget to pay special attention to your horse’s face, legs and ‘unmentionable’ parts.
Now you’re ready to get out there and compete with the best of ‘em. Aren’t you glad you took the time to put all that effort in?"