With Summer now just around the corner, the excitement for shows is building. Of course, everyone wants the best results possible but due to the busy nature of the season, it's important that you are prepared as possible to keep your horses sound and happy, and performing at their best. For the larger shows, preparation for myself and my horses often starts weeks before in terms of fitness, feeding and grooming.
I very rarely jump my horses at home, instead I save their focus and energy for the shows themselves. If I do jump, it is often gymnastic exercises such as bounces, poles and varying lines to encourage them to engage their muscles and become sharper off the ground. Instead, I create a plan combining both fitness and relaxing work to keep them engaged and keep their work regime varied. I find flatwork, poles, hacking and days off work together well to result in a happy horse. You can still incorporate useful exercises into this, whilst still ensuring that your horse is working the essential muscles. Variety is the spice of life, so be sure to keep your horse interested.
Hacking is always a nice alternative to school work, as it allows the horse to work in a different environment, and depending on the terrain available, can be beneficial it terms of fitness if you have access to landscapes such as hills. Being away from the walls of the school also enables the rider to feel any potential issues with straightness or responsiveness, so these can then be addressed directly when back in the school, incorporated into you schooling regime.
In the build up to bigger shows, I keep the horses in medium work, whilst still ensuring that they get a sufficient number of days off to allow their muscles to repair and them to rest. An important factor to keeping your horse happy is to simply allow them to be a horse- let them enjoy field time with their equine counterparts, this social stimulus may not seem that important but will ultimately have a huge impact on your horse's behaviour and their attitude to work, which are both so important in preparing your horse for competition not just physically, but mentally too.
In between training and down time, I brush the horses down each day with the Eqclusive pack, releasing the natural oils in their coats and allowing them to look as well as they feel. These brushes are suited to your horse's individual coat type, working deep down into the coat to work out dirt and leave them with that competition shine, whilst still performing a type of massage-effect. This is not only good for the horse coat, but this grooming time can also help to create a bond with your horse, building that trust which proves essential when in the ring. I also make sure to hose down and ice my horses legs after any workout, particularly if on grass, to reduce the possibility of any heat or swelling. Feeding is also a very important factor where health is concerned, as it comes from the inside out. I feed my horses according to their workload, most being on a high-fibre low-sugar diet to provide them with energy without the excess 'fizz'. Plenty of forage must be available at all times, as horses are trickle feeders, meaning they graze little and often. By feeding them correctly, you can improve digestive health, help them to maintain condition and aid muscle development.
On the whole, the build up to a show needs to simply consist of varied work, good management and trust-building with your horse. By providing them with the best care possible, they are likely to try their best for you in return. They need to be fit, but also happy, as one without the other will not work as effectively as they would combined. At the end of the day, you aren't going to win every competition no matter how much preparation you put into it. It's simply about enjoying what you do and looking after your horse to the best of your ability- winning is simply a bonus!
Thanks for reading and i'll see you in my next blog post!