During the COVID-19 lockdown, many riders have been forced to reconsider their training schedule due to competitions being cancelled and rescheduled for later in the season or for 2021, or have even had to hang up the reins altogether as a result of training facilities being closed in order to fall in line with social distancing guidelines. Whilst impacting riders’ own mental and physical health, these changes may have also had adverse effects on horses’ levels of fitness, and could likely have led to an increase in weight.
Being out of the saddle can feel strange, especially when the decision not to ride is out of our control. However, just because things are starting to return to normal, with training facilities gradually reopening and competitions resuming for this season, it’s important not to rush straight back in with your original training model.
Getting back to riding fit!
We’re all eager to get back in the saddle, but changes to the routine should be introduced as gradually as possible. It’s important to remember that, even if you had the fittest horse in the world prior to lockdown, the lack of training/reduced training schedule you’ve had to adopt in recent months will mean that some conditioning will have been lost. Be mindful that getting your horse back to optimum fitness, from grass to Riding Club-level, will most likely take between six to eight weeks, or could even take longer depending on your horse’s age, weight, breed, and whether or not they have any previous health issues.
If your horse has gained weight whilst being out in the field, this will likely lead to increased strain on joints, tendons, muscles, and the cardiovascular system. As a result, rushing back into a full training schedule of even medium intensity could result in a trip to A&E or a visit from the emergency vet. You should consider your own fitness level, too, and give yourself and your horse plenty of time to get back into a routine. Be sure to have days where training is less rigorous/intense, as well as some days off to give yourself and your horse time to recover from the sudden return to riding. You might also consider walking your horse in-hand occasionally instead of riding every day.
Before you bring your horse back into work, it’s also key to consult your farrier about the condition of their hooves. It may be that your farrier decided to remove the shoes during the lockdown period, so it’s important to ask your farrier for their advice on re-shoeing your horse now that training can resume. Your farrier will also be able to help you with an assessment of your horse’s soundness. If you’re worried about any signs of lameness in your horse, you should contact your vet immediately.
Keep an eye out for any changes in their behaviour
As far as being easy to read, horses usually aren’t, and they can hide their pain and discomfort really well. Often the only time we can tell something is wrong is with a subtle change in behaviour, which is why it’s important to keep an eye out for any signs which might indicate your horse is struggling or may be in pain as you bring them back into work. Behavioural changes which can indicate something might be wrong include:
- Resistance to the bridle
- Changing leads regularly in canter
- Bucking or rearing
- Showing signs of discomfort when putting the saddle on
- Titling their head
- Clamping their tail
- Repeatedly opening and closing their mouth
If you notice your horse exhibiting any of these behaviours, you should contact your vet to discuss these signs straight away.
It’s also important to remember that, like us, our horses have probably been getting restless during lockdown and as a result may be eager to get out and about, but it’s important not to confuse this eagerness with a high fitness level. Their being keen will cause an increase in adrenaline and as such can make the horse appear to be fitter than they actually are. You should be mindful of this when bringing your horse back into work. If your horse is blowing, sweating excessively, or if their respiration rate is higher than it would normally be when conducting a particular activity, it could be a sign that you need to slow things down for the time being until their fitness is back up to standard.
Consider your riding surface
The condition of your riding surface plays a key role in affecting your horse’s physical wellbeing, which is why it’s an important factor to consider before returning your horse to work. The warm, dry weather that we have recently been experiencing is likely to have had an impact on the condition of your surface, particularly if it’s a non-waxed riding surface, so irrigation will be key. You may also want to consider having your arena re-levelled prior to strapping on the reins and getting back in the saddle, to ensure your surface is providing the best possible levels of support, cushioning and energy return.
You can find out more about how riding surfaces can impact your horse’s wellbeing here.
At Equestrian Surfaces Ltd, we provide comprehensive arena planning, construction, installation and maintenance services for both indoor and outdoor riding arenas. Get in touch with one of our experts today to discuss our services and the various surface options we offer.