Some of us want to ride the trails. Some want to take lessons and progress in our skill levels. Others want to compete - in a manner of so many various disciplines that it is hard to list them all. Perhaps we want to work the horse from the ground, developing connection and communication at a level that is very different from human speech.
Regardless of what we want to do with our horses, our first responsibility is always to the horse. Before we can step into that stirrup, before we can work on developing that slide and before we ever can imagine heading to our local/regional/provincial (state)/national or international championships, we must be sure to meet the horse's needs.
The concept of "it depends" is the key to determining how much of what is necessary, how much is too little and how much is too much. One horse's "perfect" can be another horse's mental stress. What works for one doesn't work for another, and it does us well to learn to listen to our horses to develop an excellent management system that meets his particular needs.
Here are eight considerations to prepare your horse to be his best. Because all "performance" is based on the horse's health and mental well-being.
1. Feed Program
While it is true that some horses can get by perfectly well on hay in the winter and grass in the summer, once we introduce a workload to their regular regiment, it becomes necessary to examine the nutritional content of the feed program.
What you feed your horse is probably one of the most critical concerns. The more competitive, or demanding, his work gets, the more attention you need to give to his feed program. How much hay does he need? What sort of nutrition is necessary for the type of work he is doing? Will the requirements change as his work becomes more challenging?
2. Turn In
When we want the horses to perform, we should be cognizant of how much rest the horse needs. While many horses can do just fine in a completely outdoor environment, once you pass a certain level of exercise, the horse needs more care and attention to perform at his best. Some horses will be required to maintain a top level coat condition and grooming. Some activities will require a fully rested, energetic horse that was guaranteed his sleep the night before. Some horses will need to stay inside, out of the elements in order to maintain the soft, supple topline that is needed for them to do their best.
3. Turn Out
Giving horses a chance to be out in the open air is as important as it is to give a horse inside time. Every horse benefits from time in the field or paddock, roaming free and having a chance to interact with his equine friends. Time outside stimulates the horse physically and mentally. So there must always be an effective balancing act that combines time inside as well as outside, as required by the discipline and level of activity. Trial and error and experience will help you discover what combination works the best for your horse at his current state.
4. Health Care - Worming, Feet, Teeth, Routine Medical Care
It goes without saying that a horse has to be healthy before he can perform at his best. When left to the wayside, any of the above considerations may impact the horse's level of achievement. At large boarding barns, the barn manager may maintain a regular schedule for all the horses. At smaller, more private environments, it falls to the owner to maintain regular shots, foot care, teeth floating and worming program.
5. Physical/Mental Stimulation
Over thousands of years, horses have lived their lives travelling, carrying, pulling and being ridden. Although horses can be quite content living out their lives in a pasture, most horses benefit physically and mentally from movement and stimulation. The more you challenge the horse, the better he may feel about his surroundings, his people and his life. Good movement feels good to the horse, and he will let you know!
Some people feel that blankets should never be used on horses. However, a blanket can be a horse's "portable shelter". When can a horse use a blanket? If the bugs are strong enough to bite welts into his skin, make him pace all day until dark, or lose half of his tail hairs from all that swishing.
Similarly, the horse that trembles in the cold rain or does not develop an adequate winter coat can benefit from additional covering during the winter months. Using a blanket might result in a distinct improvement in your horse's coat quality, enhancing cleanliness and overall sheen.
7. Feel Good Rides
Learn how to make your horse move well and you might be surprised at how much he enjoys his exercise! If you can make him happy, your horse will eagerly enjoy his riding sessions.
8. Be the Best Rider/Trainer You Can Be
Well, you are part of the equation as well. If you continue to be a life-long learner, developing your skills over the long term, you can become a huge asset to any horse you ride. Take lessons in your area of choice, develop your skills and become an active and effective rider in the partnership with your horse.
Are there any other ways to help your horse be prepared to work to his potential? Please let us know how in the comments below.
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