Feel-Good Work

Check out these tips for ex­er­cise strate­gies your old guy will en­joy and ben­e­fit from.

Horse & Rider - - Table Of Contents - By Jen­nifer Fors­berg Meyer Pho­tos by Charles Brooks

You own an older horse and love him to pieces. You feed him right, keep him in good flesh, tend to his teeth, pro­tect him from par­a­sites. But do you also make sure he gets ad­e­quate ex­er­cise, apart from any turnout he may have? If you don’t, you’re deny­ing him an es­sen­tial part of a stay-healthy reg­i­men.

Ex­er­cise is as crit­i­cal to an ag­ing equine as it is to an ag­ing hu­man—and we’ve all heard how work­ing up a sweat can turn back the clock and pro­tect us from dis­ease. Here, we’ll share tips for types of ex­er­cise your horse will find plea­sur­able as he en­gages in it, plus will help him feel good in gen­eral as it loosens, stretches, and strength­ens him.

Note: If your se­nior horse is out of shape, check with your ve­teri­nar­ian about the types of work he’s ca­pa­ble of plus a sched­ule of phased-in con­di­tion­ing.

Why Ex­tra Ex­er­cise?

Al­though turnout is im­por­tant for your se­nior horse (see “Per­ma­nent Turnout,” page 40), he also needs ex­er­cise be­yond just graz­ing and me­an­der­ing around. Reg­u­lar aer­o­bic ex­er­cise im­proves his cir­cu­la­tion, which makes it eas­ier for di­gested nu­tri­ents to reach his mus­cles. Mus­cles that are con­sis­tently well­fu­eled and regularly worked at­ro­phy less as ag­ing con­tin­ues.

Con­sis­tent ex­er­cise also strength­ens your old­ster’s bones, ten­dons, and lig­a­ments, help­ing main­tain healthy joints and sound legs and feet. It also fends off obe­sity, a risk fac­tor that can lead to en­docrine prob­lems, in­clud­ing meta­bolic syn­drome.

Fi­nally, move­ment in­creases in­testi­nal motil­ity and re­duces stress, both of which help ward off colic—the num­ber-one killer of horses of any age.

Be­fore we move on to some types of ex­er­cise your older horse will en­joy, a word about warm­ing up.

Start Right

A proper warm-up max­i­mizes the suc­cess of your older horse’s ex­er­cise pro­gram plus helps pro­tect him from

in­jury. Whether your horse is on a longe line, in the round pen, or un­der sad­dle, be­gin his warm-up with at least 10 to 15 min­utes of easy-to-mod­er­ate walk­ing. Start slowly and build walk­ing speed grad­u­ally, al­low­ing time for your horse’s breath­ing and heart rate to in­crease. If you’re rid­ing, put him on a long rein and en­cour­age him to re­lax.

As the blood flow to his mus­cles steps up, mus­cle fibers are warmed and strength­ened. Mean­while, his joints flex and ten­dons stretch gen­tly, with­out in­jury, as they pre­pare for more vig­or­ous ex­er­cise.

Af­ter the walk­ing pe­riod—the end of which might in­clude a lit­tle jog­ging— add time at a long trot, then easy lope, un­til your horse is thor­oughly warmed up and can pro­ceed to what­ever else you have planned for him. Re­mem­ber to cool him down af­ter he’s done for

the day, as well; this helps pre­vent stiff­ness and mus­cle sore­ness. (For more on a thor­ough warm-up, see the note at the end of this ar­ti­cle.)

Stretch, Strengthen

While trot­ting and lop­ing build your old guy’s aer­o­bic ca­pac­ity, other ac­tiv­i­ties can stretch and strengthen his mus­cles and pro­vide ad­di­tional rangeof-mo­tion for his joints. These in­clude:

• Bend­ing. Cir­cles, turns, ser­pen­tines, spi­rals, fig­ure-8s, and the like stretch your horse’s mus­cles along one side of his body—for ex­am­ple, as you cir­cle or turn to the left, mus­cles along the right side of his body are stretched and made more sup­ple. The smaller the cir­cle or tighter the turn, the greater the stretch, so work in­cre­men­tally. Vary the fig­ures you ride to add in­ter­est and un­pre­dictabil­ity to your se­nior horse’s work­outs. And al­ways be sure to work the same amount of time in both directions, so you stretch and sup­ple both sides equally.

• Pole work. Walk­ing and trot­ting over ground poles in­creases the flex­ion in all of your horse’s limb joints; this, in turn, helps im­prove and main­tain the joints’ range of mo­tion—es­pe­cially im­por­tant for older equines. Trot­ting poles, in par­tic­u­lar, can be a lot of

fun, too (“trot” over a few on foot and see for your­self). That means they have men­tal as well as phys­i­cal ben­e­fits for your horse. To cre­ate trot poles, set from two to eight poles about 4 to 4½ feet apart, de­pend­ing on the length of your horse’s stride. Then ad­just the dis­tances as nec­es­sary as you try the poles out.

• Lat­eral work. Ask­ing your se­nior horse to move side­ways pro­vides a dif­fer­ent kind of sup­pling as he reaches lat­er­ally un­der­neath him­self with his legs. Leg-yields and side pass­ing are ex­cel­lent lat­eral move­ments. (For re­fresh­ers on how to ex­e­cute these, search the terms at Horse­andRider.com.) Work­ing a gate is an­other good ma­neu­ver re­quir­ing lat­eral move­ment.

• Hill work. Trail rid­ing pro­vides horses of any age a pleas­ant change of pace and scenery. If you can add a lit­tle hill work into the trail mix, the ben­e­fits mul­ti­ply. Go­ing gen­tly up and down hills will strengthen your se­nior horse’s hindquar­ters, tone his topline, and im­prove his bal­ance. As with all new work, start slowly and in­crease it grad­u­ally to give your horse time to adapt with­out be­com­ing overly sore.

Cue him to pro­ceed de­lib­er­ately both up and down hill—don’t let him plunge up­ward even if he wants to. Your po­si­tion in the sad­dle go­ing up and down should re­main mostly up­right. If you lean far for­ward go­ing up­hill, you weight your horse’s fore­hand; if you lean far back go­ing down­hill, you make it hard for your horse to get his hind end un­der­neath him­self to bal­ance. Think of main­tain­ing your up­per body roughly par­al­lel to the trees.

Give your old­ster plenty of these kinds of ac­tiv­i­ties on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, and he’ll be car­ry­ing you hap­pily well into his se­nior years.

The edi­tors wish to thank Kelsey Roderique and Quar­ter Horse geld­ing LB Texas Twist for serv­ing as mod­els for this fea­ture. Kelsey is the op­er­a­tions man­ager at Al Dun­ning’s Al­mosta Ranch in Scotts­dale, Ari­zona. Texas, 23 years young, is owned by Al Dun­ning’s daugh­ter, McKen­zie Parkin­son.

You can use a round pen or longe line to be­gin your se­nior horse’s warm-up. Start at a walk for sev­eral min­utes be­fore pro­ceed­ing to a trot.

TOP: A re­lax­ing walk on a draped rein is ideal for warm­ing up and as the foun­da­tional “long, slow dis­tance work” of your se­nior horse’s ex­er­cise pro­gram. BOT­TOM: Fig­ures such as the small cir­cles shown here— or ser­pen­tines, turns, and the like— pro­vide stretch­ing and sup­pling of your horse’s mus­cles; be sure to work both ways.

TOP: Ground- pole work is fresh and fun, plus it im­proves the flex­ion of your horse’s limb joints to help main­tain their range of mo­tion. BOT­TOM: Work­ing a gate pro­vides your se­nior horse with lat­eral (side­ways) sup­pling. Other help­ful lat­eral move­ments in­clude leg-yield­ing and side­pass­ing.

Rid­ing gen­tly up and down hills will strengthen your horse’s hindquar­ters, tone his topline, im­prove his bal­ance, and brighten his out­look.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.