As we are now well into the 2018 eventing season your thoughts may turn to the maintenance of your horse’s fitness and how to keep them at the top of their game.
Whether you are preparing for a 4* or a BE80 the general principles are very similar.
These include an exercise plan, diet, injury prevention and reducing the risk of performance limiting conditions such as gastric ulcers. It is very important that your horse is fit for the level of competition required.
For any horse, the exercise regime should include adequate amounts of schooling, jumping, hacking and fast work. A good mixture of all these will ensure that your horse keeps it’s all round fitness. There are considerable variations between horses and between different stages of life and the exercise regime should reflect this. Take into account their breed, age, previous injuries and temperament when working on your exercise plan.
From the veterinary perspective, one of the main factors you should consider is the surface. The concussive effects of working on hard ground can cause damage to bones and joints. Obviously it is very useful to practice showjumping on grass before a competition however you need to consider the ground conditions and the risk of injury. For example it is far better for your horses legs to train on a good school surface than to jump in a very hard field.
An appropriate warm up is also essential and will vary depending on the horse and the level of work to follow. An older horse for example will often required a longer warm up period including a longer walk time.
You will need to push your horse to increase its fitness levels but not beyond its limits which will be affected by the factors discussed previously. Indicators such as breathing rate and effort and recovery time post exercise can be helpful to judge if your horse is fit enough for that level of work. For example, a horses respiratory rate will increase during exercise but should return to ~8-14 bpm after an adequate cool down period.
Common eventing injuries include: trauma such as cuts and falls, strain injuries and tying up.
Things to consider before starting a cross country course for example are the ground conditions, the weather and outside air temperature and the specific factors affected your horse. Making sure you have suitable equipment such as boots and studs will help reduce the risk of injury. Also taking in to consideration how many competitions you have entered and completed. A young horse doing a competition every weekend through out the season will obviously be at more risk.
After competing checking legs thoroughly for heat and swellings is very important. Things like icing and bandaging can help. As well as ensuring you horse is fully recovered before transporting home. this is when monitoring respiratory rate and effort is very helpful. Keeping the horse walking while being washed off will allow them to recover slowly as well as reducing the risk of the horse tying up. It is vital to make sure your horse is drinking and urinating adequate amounts. Horses vary and will often not drink as much in a competition environment. Trying things like sloppy feeds flavoured water can be useful. Making sure they have plenty of time off the lorry to urinate on grass is sensible.
Unfortunately injuries do happen, however, reducing the risk as much as possible will hopefully make sure you get the most out of your horse this season.