Horses that perform regularly in competition should be considered equine athletes, and that includes a wide range of disciplines, from reining and dressage to show jumping and gymkhana games. To keep a show horse in prime condition requires nearly constant maintenance. Not only must they look the part of a blue ribbon contender, but their success on the show circuit depends on them staying sound and healthy.
If you own or ride an equine athlete, then you already appreciate how tough it is to keep a horse in show shape. Here are five tips that will help extend your horse's performance career:
Make use of your horsekeeping and stable management skills. Select optimum feed and provide the nutrition necessary to create that show ring shine from the inside out. All the grooming tools in the world won't compensate for a good feeding program. On the other hand, don't go overboard and plump up your horse with extra calories. Extra fat only puts added strain on joints and muscles, which can lead to an injury that disrupts your competition schedule. Also, as part of your conditioning regimen, consult with your vet about de-worming, teeth floating and vaccination protocols. Have a holistic approach to keeping your horse fit.
Use protective boots and supportive leg wraps during schooling and warm-up sessions. One slip in the round pen or an over-reaching step on the longe line can put your show horse out of commission for weeks. Furthermore, if competition rules permit the use of boots and wraps during the actual performance, use them.
When entering a show or competition, select your classes wisely. Rather than entering every event possible, focus on the few that showcase your horse's talents. That way you won't be expending his energy and stressing his body frivolously. Throughout the day, offer your horse clean water to quench his thirst and an opportunity to munch some lunch. Loosen his cinch or girth and allow him a chance to relax. This demonstrates respect for your horse as a teammate. Plus it'll make him more amenable to heading back into the arena for additional classes.
Address any lameness issues immediately. By ignoring early signs such as intermittent soreness, short strides or an uncharacteristic performance, you could be missing an opportunity to catch a soundness problem in its early stages and thereby instigate changes to arrest its progress. Veterinary interventions can prolong your equine athlete's usefulness.
Remember to allow your show horse time to just be a horse. Before the competition year gets underway, look at the calendar and determine when your horse can have a break. A couple of weeks of scheduled downtime, where your horse can roll, get dirty, hang out with his barn buddies and graze in a pasture will do wonders for his mental state. It will also help alleviate minor muscle soreness. After all, doesn't every athlete get a vacation at least once a year?