If you're itching to get back into the saddle this spring, we have six tips to help you safely get your horse back in shape.
Your horse has had the winter off, his shaggy coat is starting to shed out, and the ground is finally firm enough to do some work. Excellent!
Before you mount up, though, remember that your horse is out of shape and will need to be brought back into condition gradually. Push things too fast and your horse could get injured, meaning that it will be even longer before you can ride.
Consider these tips to make sure that you safely get your horse back in shape.
Have Your Farrier Out
Before you start conditioning your horse, have your farrier out to trim his hooves and to put shoes on, if necessary.
Working an out-of-shape horse with hooves that are too long only increases the chances that your horse may trip or fall. Have your horse's feet in great shape so that you can start conditioning your horse safely.
Check Saddle Fit
Be sure to carefully check the fit of your saddle before heading out on your first ride. As your horse loses condition over the winter, the shape of his back can change. This may mean that your saddle which fit in the fall is now too wide for your horse's back.
As your horse gets back into shape, those topline muscles will develop again and the fit should be restored, but you may need to use a saddle pad to fill in some of the extra space while you are conditioning your horse.
Wear Protective Equipment
Horses often get fresh as they come into spring, especially if they're coming off of a long period of rest. Don't take unnecessary risks. Ride your horse in an enclosed area, and make sure that someone else is on the property during your first ride.
You should also wear protective equipment, such as a helmet, at least during your initial rides when your horse may be a bit more unpredictable than normal.
Do Lots of Walking
During your first rides, focus on working your horse mainly at the walk. Remember, your horse has to adjust to carrying your weight again, and his muscles need time to strengthen themselves.
You can intersperse short stretches of trotting, but avoid cantering your horse for the first week or so until he's had a chance to rebuild his strength and balance.
Gradually Introduce More Challenging Activity
As your horse gets stronger and fitter, you can gradually introduce more challenging activities, like trail riding and jumping. Do some hill work to build your horse's muscles, and gradually ask your horse to carry himself as he regains the muscles that he will need to do so.
Never try to force your horse into traveling in a frame, especially when he is unfit, since this can create muscle strain and soreness.
Monitor Your Horse
Finally, listen to your horse's body - he will tell you when he's tired or sore. Don't push your horse too fast too soon, since a tired, sore horse is prone to injury. Pay attention to your horse's movement, willingness to go forward, respiration rate, and sweat amounts as you ride to help monitor his condition.
Conditioning your horse each spring takes time, but the rewards will be worth it. Once you've gotten your horse back in shape, you'll be off galloping on the trails and herding cattle again, and you'll be ready for an entire summer in the saddle.
How do you get your horse back into shape? Tell us in the comments below.
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