It's really difficult to decide when you should and shouldn't work your horse. Many people believe you shouldn't ride if it's "way too hot" or "way too cold." I had a vet criticize me once for working my horse when it was around 10 degrees outside saying it can be damaging to their airways. After thinking about her statement, I had to agree with her. When we exercise outside in very cold temperatures, we have the ability to cover our mouths with a scarf which assists in warming and humidifying the cold, dry air we are breathing in. With that knowledge, I consider my horses' respiratory rates when I'm working during frigid winter temperatures. Obviously, their upper airways are much larger than ours, so there is more opportunity for the breathed in air to warm and humidify before entering the lower airwars. There is less chance of bronchospasm than for us, but the danger is still present. When I work them, I give very frequent breaks and do lots of walk work. I used to think I needed to keep them working to stay warm, but I've changed that, and instead, use blankets and keep them bundled while I ride (for me, too).
But what about when it's REALLY hot, like the last couple days? Unfortunately, we may have to compete in this weather. What is the best plan for working when the heat index is 90+ degrees and there are heat advisories? If I was at a show, I likely wouldn't scratch, so I figure I'd better know how my horses will handle the temperatures and how I will fair under the same conditions.
What's my strategy for preparing to ride when it's really hot? First, make sure the horse is comfortable. I find they are generally itchy this time of year. I groom really well and make sure all the itchy parts are addressed. I use tons and tons of fly spray. I have my preferences, but everyone likes different things, so use what you like. I don't sponge them off beforehand. I leave them cool and dry to start the work. If they are already sweaty from being outside, I may sponge their chest and neck, but I don't wet the back. I don't wrap the legs, preferring they stay cooler. If there is a real need for wraps, I choose leather, fleece lined boots over polos. I've found polos hold the sweat and shift too much for my comfort level when it's really hot outside. I also put sunscreen on white noses.
I cover myself in sunscreen. I make sure I am well hydrated by drinking lots of gatorade and water. I wear light cotton t-shirts rather than fancy Joules riding shirts and vests, opting for comfort over fashion (well, I always do that). I fill my boots with baby powder so they're a little easier to take off and stay fresher. For those who get "SwAss," I can't recommend "Anti Monkey Butt" enough. If you're riding in leather seated breeches, I'd just apply it rather than waiting for the chaffing to start.
What I can't tell my students enough is that when it's really hot, you need to be very efficient with your training. I keep my warm-up very short and to the point, using it to test reactions and fine tune aids. I have a plan for what we will work on for the day. Get right to the training piece and work to achieve exact reactions immediately. I use lines that cut the arena short if I'm working on lateral movements so I can repeat movements quickly rather than going from one side to the other and wasting valuable energy. I get as much done as I possibly can in 20 minutes, no longer. That way, when I go to a show and it's really hot, I know I can get the job done and not waste my horse in the heat.
After working, untack very quickly and get them in the shower. I hose for almost as long as I ride, making sure to really chill the legs. Scrape water off as you hose to keep the warming water away from the body. Whether I turn out or leave in the stall depends on the time of day, location of turnout and the horse's temperament.
Be sure to give electrolytes. Fran gives Boomer a bucket of Gatorade after each workout and he sucks it right down. It's also a nice treat! Offer free choice salt and added electrolytes in a meal.
Hope this helps!
Normally, if I am having a lot of trouble with a training piece, I would just stop, take a step back and revisit later down the road. I don't feel I can do that with the flying changes and Wheels since if he doesn't learn the changes soon, he needs a new career. Maybe that's the best thing for him, since he's such a good jumper. Anyone interested in investigating that possibility should contact me... I'd happily sell him as a jumper; but I'd like to overcome this hurdle.
I do not train changes with a pole on the ground because I believe it teaches horses to swap leads in a flat fashion rather that get nice, jumpy dressage changes. However, Wheels is a special case, so I'm willing to try anything. Last year, Pam suggested using a pole between circles. Canter a circle, change direction over the pole, back and forth. I tried this, but he had the tendency to chip the pole and land on the wrong lead anyway. Dork. Sometimes it would work, but it wasn't consistent. I didn't try again finding it added confusion.
Wheels is much stronger now and has a pretty good simple change (at least over the last few days). I thought I'd try the pole again. Oh dear. That's not a pole, that's a 4 foot oxer...and I'm in a very unforgiving County Perfection! However, he landed on the new lead. OK. Hike my stirrups up as far as my saddle will allow and stay in a light seat. Back and forth over the pole, leap the pole onto the new lead, leap back, back and forth. Wheels thought this was a fantastic idea. I would creep further and further to the ends of the pole until the pole was no longer under his feet in the change from left to right (the direction we tend to have the most success with the changes). Boom! He got the change without the pole. I immediately made a huge fuss and put him away. You could see Wheels' brain turning.
The next day, I brought him out like normal. We warmed up like we always do and he felt bright and fresh. Up we went to canter. Cantering along, happy, starting to put him together, shortening my reins, I put my outside leg back a little to ask him to leg yield into my receiving hand (my outside leg, remember). All of a sudden, Wheels begins launching in the air, legs going every which way, but happy expression. Hmmmm? What the heck? Ok, back to canter. Start to turn, launch around, legs everywhere. Wheels, what are you doing? Let's just trot, OK? Sure, Mom, what do you want to do? Half-pass, shoulder-in, big trot...no problem. Canter again, but let's go the other way. OK. Can you go sideways? Launch in the air, legs everywhere, body heaving over the ground. "Wheels, we're not going to work on changes today." "Oh, sorry, I thought I was doing them. Nevermind." And off he went to work. Fool.
Here's a little background as to what has transpired over the last several days. Originally, Liz was to have a lesson with Pam and I would sit the day out since Junior was "not ready to work, yet." Unfortunately, Doc had a mishap (out of our control and he is doing well at this point) and was forced to cancel the lesson. As many of you are aware, Liz is trying to get on the Region 8 team for KY in July. To have her horse suddenly lame is devastating, but all limbs are crossed that he will make it to GMHA to debut their freestyle.As for Junior, he injured himself in early May. Throughout the course of his rehab, I treated a bit outside the box and did what the horse ordered rather than what the doctor ordered. I've never completely agreed with how vets treat tendon injuries, and since he is my horse, I let him do the talking. I did laser therapy for a week after the initial injury and used Surpass. I never truly stopped working Junior. Granted, we walked for a solid 2 weeks, but then gradually added trotting. I was turning him out in a quiet paddock from day 8. I'm not recommending people make these decisions. However, this is what worked for me and Junior. He's a special horse and you need to be a horseperson with sensitive horses. At 3 weeks, his ultrasound was clear and within 4 weeks, we were cantering and doing changes. I never went sideways, and that's important to pay attention to. Lateral work places severe strain on the tendons and ligaments and must be avoided. I would watch for increased swelling, heat, lameness, etc. Junior never exhibited any of these, so I simply continued to gradually increase the time and amount of work each week.
On Saturday night, I spoke with Pam about Doc and mentioned I would ride either Flagg or Wheels in my lesson. She said "I would prefer to see you ride Junior." She's been following our progress via email, of course. I'm so thankful to Pam for bringing it up. The barn folks were surprised to see me come out on Junior since I've been doing a lot of my work privately. I didn't want to condone the fact that I was doing things against vet orders. Junior felt like a million bucks as we challenged his hind legs a bit in order to get him off the front. You could feel the smile on his face and the relief in his body as we went to real work again. He felt loose and stronger than I gave him credit for. We worked mostly the canter since Pam made the point that his trot is very "flashy" and more apt to strain the tendons than his canter. We want the canter to come shorter and quicker anyway, so that's a good place to start. We did lots of tempis to get the canter jumping. They are not hard on his body and his favorite exercise. He played all the way to ones.
I hope my vet isn't reading any of this...and luckily everything is coming together as planned. I hope to bring Junior out for the CDI in August and after yesterday, I know he'll be ready! Thanks, Pam!
We have been amazingly busy at the farm. Things are looking great, thanks to everyone involved. As to the horses, clients, friends, etc...we're all busy with shows and training!
Junior has been out of work for quite some time from a mild tendon strain. I turned him out one day after a rain storm and I watched him and Wheels skitter around for a moment and then busy themselves with their hay. I didn't think much of it. A couple days later, I noticed a mild swelling so I did the usual cold hose and wrapped for a couple days. He was completely sound. I rode him and he didn't feel "right" to me, but bystanders thought he looked fine. A couple more days and no change in the swelling forced a call to Burlington Equine. Low and behold, there was some injury to the superficial flexor tendon. I treated Junior with laser and Surpass over the week and kept him quiet. We've been riding at the walk for several weeks now. First, he got really fat, but now, with the lack of exercise and his busy brain, he's worried himself skinny. Thankfully, he's fully recovered and is heading back on track. We're not able to train, yet, due to zero fitness; but at least he's working and happy! I'm hoping to be back on track for HITS, but we'll have to see what the summer brings. Quite a bummer, but thankfully, he's healthy and sound!
That's given me extra time to focus on all the other kids. Wheels is working quite well, but submission is not always his best attribute. We're working really hard to develop the strength and fitness he needs to perform quick, balanced simple changes. I want to be able to step into the walk and canter away with an almost invisible aid. Wheels would rather lean into my hands, drop his shoulders, stop forward motion and use the ground for brakes. There are days I swear my guts might ooze out my belly button. Ugh! The upward transition turns into more of a discussion about what lead, my head goes where? and "I'll get back to you on that." Good grief. He has, however, performed a couple more clean flying changes, but they are few and far between. The stars need to be aligned just so in order for me to even want to attempt one.
Spider is definitely the sleeper of the group. As a baby, he was very timid and shy. He would over-react at things he thought were scary or plant his feet and refuse to move. Things have changed! He's extremely laid back and confident when he's carrying a rider around. You can see the pride beam across his precious face when someone mounts up. He's taken Kelly for hacks in the fields and woods, works like a superstar in the arena even with other horses misbehaving in the ring. He's forward, comfortable and tries his heart out for you. He's going to make someone an unbelievable horse! He's really big, so finds it hard to organize all his parts, but he's such a baby, it doesn't matter one bit. As long as he keeps his crayons on the paper, he can do whatever he likes at this point in his training. We'll teach him to stay in the lines in another month or two.
Flagg is going really well. He's forward, light in the hand and accepts contact much better. He's not nearly as wiggly in the hand as he was a month ago. He's beginning to grow into his legs, but still can't keep shoes on. His long hind legs sometimes get the best of him. He's working on all the basics of the training scale, rhythm, suppleness and contact. He works on changes within the gaits as well as transitions between. He leg-yields and halts square from trot. Such a good boy and always eager to play. He's a joy to hack alone and will march any where you want to go. The only "problem" with him hacking is he thinks he's a giraffe and loves to eat leaves off the trees. He'll grab hold of anything he can and rip off a mouthful. Sometimes, that causes the branch to come back and smack me! That's no OK, but he's really quick to take a bite, and sometimes, I'm just not as fast.
Keep you eyes open for Liz and Doc. They're tearing up the Region 8 selection trials for NAJrYRC. Maybe we'll be going to KY next month? Fantastic!
Well, off to ride with Pam. We're going to put together a rehab plan for Junior so hopefully, he's ready for HITS in August! Check back soon for updates on how the clinic goes today. Cheers!