Bringing a horse back into work after several weeks of rest must be done in a very gradual way. It’s out of the question to go back to the competition grounds from the first week onwards or to do a series of intensive sessions.
“If the horse was originally in good physical condition and to the extent that the rest period did not exceed 4 or 5 weeks, it can go pretty quickly”, Michel Robert.
1. Health check
Before returning to work, it is important to check the health of your horse. Plan a visit to the veterinarian, the farrier, and if necessary the osteopath…
In addition to taking stock of the general condition and drawing your attention to specific issues that need to be looked after or monitored, the veterinarian will be able to advise you on the work schedule, the adjustment of the diet… The farrier will establish a picture of the feet, prescribe appropriate care, and adapt the shoeing to a more intensive work.
2. Begin smoothly
The work pace must be adapted according to your horse and his physical condition when he returns from “vacation”. In all cases, it is advisable to start with short sessions, with progressive difficulties and to alternate with rest sessions.
“The first rule to get your horse back into shape is to split the work. That is to say alternate between efforts and recovery sessions”, Michel Robert.
a. Step 1: Groundwork exercises
Groundwork sessions, such as longing or liberty work, are a good way to initially develop his muscles in good conditions without constraining him with your weight.
Begin with a fairly wide circle at walk and trot. As soon as you feel him responsive and attentive, think about varying the size of the circles and asking for transitions. Do not forget to work at both leads.
The following days, introduce the gallop and prefer large circles to help him keep his balance. Ask for transitions frequently enough to keep his attention. Insist gradually on the enlargements and narrowing of the circles, without putting him in difficulty. You can gradually increase the length of your sessions.
If you have a walker in your riding school, do not hesitate to use it. It is a good exercise to gently erase stiffness and nicely restore the muscle structure.
b. Step 2: Riding exercises
When longing does not seem to tire your mount anymore, it is time to ride.
The first riding sessions will still have to be light. Start with pace and trot as if he were a young horse. Go for a ride two to three times a week so as not to bring him down if you can. Go looking for differences in height to work his breath, ask for more and more sustained gaits. Finish with neck extensions or other softening exercises to stretch his back and avoid stiffness.
Then, the more “serious” work can begin. Ask him for more complex exercises, such as leg yield, shoulder in, half pass… You can also introduce ground poles work to give your horse his elevation back. When you feel ready, add some fences. Start with 2 or 3 jumps and gradually increase the number and height. You will be able to use your Seaver girth to monitor your performance (height and number of jumps, jumping path…) during the sessions. Always think about working gradually and do not forget the rest sessions.
“The body of the horse will harden as and when the jumping sessions. You can jump almost everyday small fences. On the other hand, by cutting corners and jumping too high too quickly, you will face serious issues. Far too many horses hurt themselves when landing and do not want to jump anymore because they have not been physically prepared enough”, Michel Robert.
c. Step 3: Resumption of competitions
Theoretically after 3 to 4 weeks, your horse is ready to resume competitions. Feel free to start with lower level classes compared to what you were doing at the end of the previous season, to gradually get into the swing of things.