9 Tips to Keep Your Se­nior Dres­sage Horse Com­pet­i­tive

Sound equine-man­age­ment prac­tices cou­pled with a good dose of com­mon sense will as­sist in the longevity of se­nior horses.

Dressage Today - - Content - By Lil­lian Si­mons

Sound equine-man­age­ment prac­tices cou­pled with a good dose of com­mon sense will as­sist in the longevity of se­nior horses.

With mod­ern-day ve­teri­nary medicine and coaches, train­ers and riders who un­der­stand the im­por­tance of a struc­tured train­ing pro­gram, many horses in the sport of dres­sage man­age to com­pete well into their late teens. How are these horses cared for and what can be done to keep them at their best? Richard D. Mitchell, DVM, of New­town, Con­necti­cut; U.S. Olympian Hilda Gur­ney, of Moor­park, Cal­i­for­nia; and FEI trainer Felic­i­tas von Neu­mann-Cosel, of Wood­bine, Mary­land, weigh in on proper health care and main­te­nance for the se­nior horse.

1 Fo­cus on cor­rect ba­sic train­ing. If a horse (se­nior or not) is ac­tively com­pet­ing, a tai­lored train­ing and fit­ness pro­gram is im­per­a­tive for keep­ing him sound and healthy. Von Neu­mann-Cosel re­calls a 20-year-old Grand Prix jumper she re­habbed. The horse had been treated for nav­ic­u­lar prob­lems but she found that a cer­tain ap­proach in her rid­ing and train­ing helped re­solve the lame­ness. For her, good ba­sic train­ing is the most im­por­tant el­e­ment in keep­ing a horse young.

With all of her horses, von Neu­mann-Cosel fo­cuses on de­vel­op­ing the nat­u­ral gaits, try­ing to im­prove reg­u­lar­ity and power to cre­ate flow with sym­me­try. This means keep­ing the horse mov­ing lightly, softly and with lots of spring, but not so much as to push the horse be­yond his lim­i­ta­tions. This is only pos­si­ble when the horse achieves self-car­riage, which comes from a swing­ing back and an en­gaged core. For her, lat­eral suppleness is key to this, and she uses it as a way to chal­lenge and strengthen the horse’s ab­dom­i­nal mus­cles.

“Sit­ting trot is over­rated,” she says. “I can prac­tice most things in the ris­ing trot. I also do a lot of can­ter in two-point to help keep the horse’s back free and mov­ing.” Von Neu­mann-Cosel’s train­ing pro­gram fo­cuses on cre­at­ing an ath­lete through suppleness and strength in the horse’s body. She lim­its how much she schools ac­tual move­ments un­less cer­tain ex­er­cises im­prove the horse’s way of go­ing. She feels that a horse who bends and is able to ex­tend and col­lect with bal­anced tran­si­tions will never need to drill move­ments. With this ap­proach she kept her last Grand Prix horse com­pet­ing for many sea­sons. Years later, he still moves beau­ti­fully and sound and plays oc­ca­sion­ally with the move­ments. 2 In­cor­po­rate va­ri­ety in the work­load. Von Neu­mann-Cosel also in­cor­po­rates hill work, cav­aletti work and jump­ing to main­tain the horse’s fit­ness and to chal­lenge his in­tel­lect. Sim­i­larly, Mitchell be­lieves un­der-sad­dle work should be var­ied from day to day and never be repet­i­tive, as that tends to cre­ate re­cur­ring trauma to joints, ten­dons and lig­a­ments in older horses.

3 Main­tain men­tal en­gage­ment. A var­ied train­ing schedule is not only im­por­tant for health and fit­ness pur­poses, but also for keep­ing horses gen­uinely in­ter­ested in work and men­tally sharp. Von Neu­mann-Cosel says, “I see too many horses with the look of ‘What’s for din­ner?’ in their eyes rather than a gen­uine en­thu­si­asm for work­ing.” Older horses in her train­ing pro­gram are worked five days a week. “In gen­eral, the horses do not get more than two in­tense rides in a row and they have a day of trail rid­ing or work in the field. With some in­tu­ition one can feel how much the horse can work and how much re­cov­ery time is needed,” she says.

4 Stick to a schedule. Gur­ney says main­tain­ing se­nior horses is of­ten a mat­ter of com­mon sense. She has two older school­mas­ters. The first is Win­ston Churchill, a 24-year-old Olden­burg geld­ing, and the sec­ond is Willa, a 30-year-old Hanove­rian mare

by Werther. Both are fit and reg­u­larly rid­den. Her se­cret to keep­ing them sound and healthy is a strict ad­her­ence to a schedule. Nei­ther horse com­petes, but they con­tinue to school the Grand Prix move­ments. They are worked six days a week, but the train­ing ses­sions are nei­ther long nor par­tic­u­larly de­mand­ing.

Gur­ney foaled Willa, and 30 years later, the mare still schools one tem­pis and ex­ten­sions. Both of Gur­ney’s horses are given only one day off so they con­tinue to move around.

For the older horse, in par­tic­u­lar, von Neu­mann-Cosel says a long walk be­fore and af­ter a work­out is key.

Mitchell says, “Proper warm-up is most im­por­tant in the older horse. Of­ten these horses start like a diesel truck and take a while to loosen up. Giving such horses a long walk warmup and in­clud­ing some lat­eral ex­er­cises, such as shoul­der and haunches-in and walk­ing half-passes, will help them loosen up while strength­en­ing core mus­cles. These move­ments can also be in­cluded in trot work ev­ery other day to strengthen core mus­cu­la­ture.”

5 Keep him mov­ing. It is es­sen­tial for the horse to move to main­tain strength and flex­i­bil­ity.

Even out­side of her horses’ work, Gur­ney likes them to have the abil­ity to move. Willa, in par­tic­u­lar, is housed in a 30-by-30-foot stall so she has plenty of room to be com­fort­able. The key for Gur­ney, how­ever, is ad­e­quate turnout for the horses so they are con­tin­u­ously mov­ing around, avoid­ing stiff­ness.

Mitchell also says that older horses should be out of their stalls as much as pos­si­ble. A few op­tions he sug­gests are reg­u­lar turnout, hand-walk­ing, a walker and longe­ing (although not per­formed in ex­cess). This will help main­tain foot, ten­don and lig­a­ment health as well as the horse’s over­all men­tal and phys­i­cal health. Ac­cord­ing to von Neu­mann- Cosel, turnout is a key com­po­nent in keep­ing her older horses happy, but she mon­i­tors the weather and tem­per­a­tures to avoid ex­pos­ing the horses to ex­treme el­e­ments.

6 Min­i­mize com­pet­i­tive stress. In terms of com­pe­ti­tion, von Neu­mann-Cosel says she tries to min­i­mize the num­ber of com­pe­ti­tions to qual­ify for cham­pi­onships and she tries to min­i­mize the num­ber of cham­pi­onships she at­tends too. She adds: “The older horses, in par­tic­u­lar, should have enough time to re­cover from trai­ler­ing and com­pet­ing.”

7 Main­tain an ap­pro­pri­ate diet. Es­pe­cially in older warm­bloods, mon­i­tor­ing and main­tain­ing an ap­pro­pri­ate diet is key. As they age, warm­bloods be­come more prone to meta­bolic dis­or­ders such as equine Cushing’s dis­ease (read “When Dres­sage Horses Get Cushing’s Dis­ease” on p. 58). For the ac­tive se­nior horse, Mitchell rec­om­mends us­ing a feed with mod­er­ate pro­tein (11 to 12 per­cent) and fat for en­ergy (9 to 11 per­cent). He says, “Higher­fiber di­ets [17-plus per­cent] pro­vide a source of struc­tural car­bo­hy­drate that can be used for bac­te­rial fer­men­ta­tion, con­vert­ing fatty acids in the colon for en­ergy pro­duc­tion.” This di­etary ap­proach sup­ports horses who are in­sulin re­sis­tant and mim­ics the nat­u­ral diet that horses were orig­i­nally cre­ated to digest.

Most rep­utable feed com­pa­nies

bal­ance their grains with vi­ta­mins and min­er­als so that min­i­mal sup­ple­men­ta­tion is re­quired. This is par­tic­u­larly true if the feed is fed with qual­ity hay. Ac­cord­ing to Mitchell, older hay sources lose some vi­ta­mins, so sup­ple­men­ta­tion may be use­ful. Vi­ta­min E is of­ten de­pleted with pro­longed stor­age, and some horses may not ab­sorb it well, so sup­ple­men­ta­tion with a wa­ter-sol­u­ble form may be very help­ful.

Gur­ney feeds a grain made for brood­mares to all horses, ex­cept those with meta­bolic is­sues. It is sup­ple­mented with se­le­nium, cop­per and zinc. For those who need more en­ergy, she adds oats to the feed­ing regime. Some of her older horses are fed a sup­ple­ment to as­sist with any meta­bolic is­sues, in which case the oats are elim­i­nated from their diet. A few of her older horses are also fed beet pulp to help main­tain a healthy weight.

8 Sup­port joint health. Joint health is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant within the con­text of se­nior horses. Mitchell says that own­ers and riders need to avoid chronic trauma, as it con­trib­utes to joint dis­ease. This means avoid­ing heavy work in large doses. Fre­quent and heavy work­loads in­crease the force on joint sur­faces, which re­sults in many of the com­mon joint is­sues seen among per­for­mance horses.

A re­fined work pro­gram that is bal­anced and con­sid­er­ate of the horse, his lim­i­ta­tions, age and fit­ness will help pre­vent any un­nec­es­sary pound­ing and force on the joints.

A shoe­ing pro­gram can have a big ef­fect on a horse’s joint health and sound­ness. Im­proper shoe­ing can lead to un­nec­es­sary and harm­ful pres­sure on cer­tain lig­a­ments, ten­dons and joints, which could re­sult in lame­ness or more se­ri­ous in­jury. Along the same lines, good foot­ing is proven to re­duce joint trauma.

Sur­faces that are nei­ther too deep nor too shal­low and mixed with ap­pro­pri­ate ma­te­ri­als are key com­po­nents of an ideal foot­ing sur­face.

Mitchell also rec­om­mends cer­tain main­te­nance prod­ucts that can aid in joint health. He says, “Ad­e­quan can re­duce the ef­fects of en­zymes that ac­cu­mu­late with train­ing trauma. Oral nu­traceu­ti­cals may be of lim­ited ben­e­fit, and I gen­er­ally rec­om­mend Cose­quin ASU Plus, which does con­tain a prod­uct proven to be an­ti­in­flam­ma­tory—av­o­cado-soy—and another—MSM—which is of­ten lost from feed dur­ing stor­age and is thought to be im­por­tant in the main­te­nance of joint health.”

Gur­ney also uti­lizes Ad­e­quan , par­tic­u­larly for the older horses who are more arthritic. Von Neu­man­nCosel also rec­om­mends in­jectable hyaluronic acid, for ex­am­ple Legend or Ad­e­quan® and finds it more ben­e­fi­cial than oral sup­ple­ments.

9 No hoof, no horse. Hoof health is a com­plex topic. First and fore­most, cor­rect trim­ming and/or shoe­ing tech­niques per­formed on a reg­u­lar schedule by a knowl­edge­able far­rier are crit­i­cal. Hoof health is also based on good nutri­tion, clean stalls and pad­docks and proper daily foot care. En­vi­ron­ments that are ex­ces­sively wet or dry can be detri­men­tal to a horse’s hoof health. In terms of nutri­tion as it re­lates to hoof care, Mitchell sug­gests mon­i­tor­ing feed quan­ti­ties and sched­ules to avoid over­feed­ing. “A good plan of nutri­tion with­out ex­ces­sive feed­ing pro­vides the build­ing blocks for healthy hoof ker­atin and lam­i­nar health,” Mitchell says.

Most own­ers know that horses re­quire reg­u­lar trim­ming and/or shoe­ing sched­ules. Typ­i­cally, horses who are bare­foot will nat­u­rally trim their hooves on out­door ter­rain.

Per­for­mance horses, how­ever, typ­i­cally must ad­here to a shoe­ing schedule of ev­ery four to six weeks. Go­ing any longer, ac­cord­ing to Mitchell, can al­low for is­sues to de­velop and ac­cu­mu­late.

He adds, “Some horses do very well bare­foot on softer, less abra­sive foot­ing, but the train­ing sur­face may be a fac­tor in de­ter­min­ing if shoes are ap­pro­pri­ate in other cases. Such horses still need to be pe­ri­od­i­cally main­tained and trimmed to man­age bal­ance and break over.”

For more se­nior horse care tips from this ar­ti­cle, please visit dres­sage­to­day.com/ the­ory/tips-to-keep-your-se­nior-dres­sage­horse-com­pet­i­tive.

It iS eS­SeN­tial fOR all hORSeS tO MOve tO MaiN­taiN StReNgth aNd flex­i­bil­ity. A vaR­ied tRaiN­iNg Schedule iS iM­POR­taNt fOR health, fit­NeSS aNd MeN­tal eN­gage­MeNt.

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