Thursday, May 5, 2011

My Horse's Conditioning Program for Returning to Work

Tucker got his chiropractic adjustment and acupuncture on Tuesday morning and his pelvis and lumbar area needed several adjustments, particularly on the right side, so that explains why he was relunctant to stretch his back and why I was having such a hard time keeping him straight (he was traveling with his haunches to the right).  Man am I glad that Dr. L came to see him!  She is a miracle worker.  He felt so great last night, forward, but not tense, so much straigher, and he wanted to stretch down at the trot, which was a great feeling.  He is still weak behind and has trouble staying engaged for any length of time.  He really pushes for a few strides, then he overdoes it and wants to get this big huge trot, and then a few strides later falls behind my leg because it's too hard, so we still have a lot to work on. 

Apparently, after Dr. L treated him on Tuesday, he took himself for a little gallop in the field (feeling a little too good, birthday boy?), so evidently he doesn't realize that there is an actual rehab plan in place.  I thought maybe it would be a good idea, then, to set one down.  Tucker is an avid blog reader (he even comments sometimes).  Hopefully he'll read this and understand that I'd rather him not gallop around like his tail's on fire for at least a few more weeks.

Grey Horse Matters offered me a link to a very helpful post that she did, where she outlines her program for bringing her horses back into work in the Spring after being in inconsistent work all winter -- go read it!  She uses the British Horse Society as her guide, but modifies it to suit her needs, and I think I'm going to do the same.  Below is my modified plan.  The BHS standard is in in black, and my modified plan is in in green

1st WEEK
Walking exercise on the level. Half an hour on the first day, increasing to one hour by the end of the first week.

My plan:
30- 45 minutes total walking undersaddle in the ring, alternating between working walk and loose rein, increasing to 45 minutes by the end of the week.

2nd WEEK
Increase walking up to 1 hour by the end of the week.

My plan:
30-40 minutes total walking, alternating between working walk and loose rein, with 2-3 brief intervals of trotting, begin walking over poles, start doing easy lateral work at the walk, and by the end of the week add in walking over cavaletti and small cross rails and cooling out outside walking up and down hills.

3rd WEEK
Slow trotting, starting on the level, together with walking up and down hills.

My plan:
30 minutes - 1 hour of riding total, increase the number and duration of trot sets (as Tucker allows), with as much long-and-low trotting as possible, continue easy lateral work, cavaletti, and small cross rails at the walk, and by the end of the week start trotting over poles on the ground.  Cool out outside up and down hills, as weather permits.  If horse's brain allows, begin riding outside on weekend. :)

4th WEEK
As third week.

My plan:
Same as above, maintaining whatever number and duration of trot sets achieved by the end of the week, and start asking for brief periods of working trot in between long-and-low trot during a couple of rides.

5th WEEK
1 ½ hours exercise a day, to include some trotting up hills and short, slow cantering on good, level ground.

My plan:
40 minutes - 1 hour of work, begin trotting raised cavaletti and cross rails, start asking for a little longer periods of working trot between long-and-low trot, start asking for easy lateral work at the trot, add in some brief intervals of cantering in each direction.

6th-8th WEEKS
1 ½ hours exercise a day, to include trotting up hills and longer cantering periods. School work may include jumping and canter circles.

My plan:
6th week:  40 minutes - 1 hour of work, increasing duration of canter intervals.  Add in a couple of days with slightly more demanding working trot sessions, including a little more lateral work and some collection and baby extended trot.  On the other days, long-and-low trot and canter only. Continue cavaletti and cross rail work at the walk and trot.

7th week:  Same as above.  By the end of the week, canter cavaletti and cross rails.

8th week:  Same as above, continue cantering cavaletti and cross rails during the week, and take a jumping lesson at the end of the week.

It feels good to have a plan, doesn't it?  Now Tucker, let's get with the program please.  Galloping is more like Week 6 or 7.
Please note:  In case you've found this post through a search engine, Tucker is not coming back from a soft tissue injury, but rather a wound that was stitched and required 2 months of stall rest.  I think it is best to consult with your vet if you're bringing your horse back from any kind of soft tissue injury, to prevent any further damage.  (Just trying to be a responsible blogger!)


  1. This is a very sensible plan. I have great respect for how Arlene brings her horses back into condition.

    Tucker, are you listening? Auntie Jane says: Slow. Down. If it's any consolation, Hudson has to walk 30 minutes every day on the buckle, and 20 minutes minimum on the bit. In between we work on stuff we need to work on. An hour of marching out walking every day has kept him fit enough to want/be able to gallop like crazy when he gets the bug.

    I'm a huge fan of the big, easy, walk for getting/keeping horses in shape. I know it gets boring, that's why Hudson gets to bring a friend. :)

    I know a people exercise trainer that says "what you can do is great, but where you really see how much you are improving in strength is in how fast/well you recover from effort. That's the goal to sight, not how much you can lift/run/etc." For what it's worth.
    We're behind you Tucker!

  2. Looks like an awesome plan! Tucker behave and do what mum says!!!!!

  3. I just received a free lease on a 20 year old Anglo Arab mare. She is barefoot, in good health (apart from being chubby from not being ridden and out in the pasture for about 5 years.) She has no health or joint issues, no injuries. Her owner is ill and can not ride her, but does not want to sell her-she simpy wants the mare to be ridden. I found your site by a Google search. I think I may try your approach, although having ridden the mare once last week, a 20 minute ride of walking, light trotting (no more than 5 minutes) and one lap around at a canter (just to see how she went) she was not laboring or bothered. Do you think the approach above would be too slow, or is slow and cautious better than too much too soon? She's pretty hardy (the Arab in her, I suspect) and good boned (built like a TB, but simply with shorter legs). Appreciate any advice!


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