Some details on - How can we help the Ridden horse stay sound!

All horses are born with asymmetry that’s just how it is. All horses move unevenly at the start of their ridden life, and it’s our job as the rider to work out why and how we can help them. When the horse bares weight unevenly, it creates huge forces on that part of the body and so if we can help the horse use its body more evenly we can prevent lameness much more efficiently.

Many vets are now using Lameness Locators to help in identifying Lameness. It’s a marker based, sensor system that measures the lameness. The markers are not on the legs as you would expect, they are on the Pelvis, Withers and head.

When thinking about keeping the horse sound we need to consider the whole horse, its conformation, its current condition/muscle development and if there is any tension held in the horse. Then we need to consider the outside influences, rider, tack, turn-out, school surface, farrier etc.

Never mind what your discipline to give your horse a varied training programme is essential to its development.

Dressage horses trained too much in the school suffer most greatly from fatigue in muscle groups, with particular movements being repeated over and over to accomplish perfection. Dressage horses training associated injuries are most common in the hindlegs, hocks, stifles and SI pain in the advanced horse. These horses work with a low heart rate and need to be strong to perform the collected work expected at the higher levels. It takes many years of cross training to achieve this. The skills performed need to only be done when the muscles have the ability to support the body, otherwise injury is inevitable. They should only be doing 2-3 days a week of strength training throughout their ridden career. They rely on Skill & Power to perform. The muscles, tendons and ligaments work hard.

Jumping horses suffer much more so from the impact of landing on the front feet. Shoeing balance in all ridden horses is essential and even greater for these horses. For instance a long toe - dropped heel can make things much worse with the strain on the forelimbs. Cross training, management and rider technique/weight all play a part.

Event Horses suffer mostly from Suspensory and Superficial Digital Flexor Tendon Injuries. These horses spend much time galloping for their fitness which leads to fatigue and then incoordination.

For all competition horse’s cross training is essential – Lunging, Hacking, Schooling/Strengthening, Cardio Work & Jumping. Good turn-out on hills (if possible) shows very positive results. Core muscles are key to all soundness and the stronger and more even the strength of the core the more likely they are to stay sound. Horses take 48-96 hours to repair from muscle damage and soreness so schooling for 2 or 3 days in a row is not great for the horse they need time in between hard sessions to repair. Competition Horses are better shod every 4 weeks.
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Horses with respiratory problems are 4 times more likely to become lame, it’s thought from fatigue through lack of oxygen.

With all the different exercise you do with the horse, its key to work on trying to improve the asymmetry. Strengthening and schooling sessions should not just involve movements for your dressage test, it should involve a specific training goal to improve the weak hind leg or the heavy weight baring on the left shoulder. Working with a knowledgeable trainer you need to identify your horses weaknesses early on and have a strengthening programme to eventually get them straight.

If you are going to use training aids ensure you know how to use them correctly and know why you are using them. For instance if you are using a Pessoa – is your horse strong enough to have that much pressure around the hindlegs?. If not the horse will compensate somewhere in the body causing an uneven gait or abnormal weight baring. There are many different gadgets now on the market – so make sure if you use one of them you know exactly why you are using it, how to use it correctly and most importantly is your horse strong enough to do what you are asking without compensating negatively. So many horses are not ready for the gadget and it causes more harm than good!

Pole work Clinics are a big thing now in the UK. They can be very helpful, but is it the right thing for your horse? If your horse has a spinal rotation is the spine swinging in trot a good thing for that horse or is it making the situation worse? When you attend the clinic do you know what your horse needs from it? If the poles are too far apart for your horse’s stride, hyper-extension is not going to be good if your horse has a ligament or tendon weakness in a lower limb. It’s important you take responsibility for what the horse should be doing so the coach is aware. Most trainers running pole work clinics are hopefully educated enough to assess what the horses need, but if you are attending one of where you don’t know the trainer talk to them and explain your goals for the session.

A huge increase in popularity since Valegro announced he goes on the water treadmill – is the water treadmill! Although again this can be helpful, anyone can purchase one of these and with very little knowledge can put your horse on it. It’s really important you know why you are taking your horse there and massively important you assess the knowledge of the operator. A fast treadmill with deep water will extend the thoracic spine and cause your horse all sorts of compensatory discomfort leading to lameness. Use with CAUTION!!

Aside from all the asymmetry issues the horse has naturally that we need to help them with a huge influence is you the rider. Lots of riders are crooked, stiff and worse case have very little feel – sorry but in some cases its true!!

It’s the job of the rider to make themselves as strong, supple and aware as possible. A rider that’s crooked will cause the horse to compensate and that compensation will lead to uneven weight baring and ultimately lameness. You need regular assessment on this with your trainer and if you can, a lesson on a mechanical horse can tell you so much that you are not noticing. The saddle that you use has a massive impact on how you position yourself. If it hollows your back, locks your spine or puts you out of alignment you need to change it.

Good tack is essential to helping your horse stay sound - but most importantly having the best experts around you who are knowledgeable and educated will make all the difference. Find experts that will work with others that are skilled in their field. Your farrier for example is central to your horse functioning, and therefore needs to be someone that your saddler or vet can talk to.

Thanks for taking the time to read I hope you found it helpful.