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It’s that time of year again. The clocks have gone back, the days are longer and there has even been a few sightings of the golden ball in the sky! All this means that we all have a bit more time and motivation to do our horses and for those of you who work horses around a full time job without the luxury of a floodlit manege, the opportunities for riding every day are more frequent. This means that hopefully your horses will be getting fitter and your mind will be starting to focus on the first competitions of the season. In order to make the process as smooth as possible it’s important to be and feel prepared! Try to set yourself goals for the season. I find the best way is to pick what you are aiming for, say for example a 3 day, or moving up the grades, and then work backwards. This is something that you could sit down and do with your trainer, as they may have some great ideas of getting you prepared. it also ensures that you have enough time and competitions before you get there. Be sure to plan in some contingency ones just in case of
cancellations, with our great British weather. It’s not ideal to be going on minimum qualifications anyway! The process ideally should start as soon as you know that you can ride your horse more frequently and then put a fitness plan into place. If your horse has been ridden a couple of times a week through winter and gets access to turnout, there should be a basic level of fitness already there – it’s just a case of topping it up for the final month / 6 weeks. If the horse has not been in work at all, then I would aim for a 10-week program to ensure good basic fitness and to not do any damage. If the horse has been hunting, then it may be overfit, and need to be a bit let down and concentrate on skills training. The fitness program should be viewed as giving the horse a good chance of performing well and staying sound. You know yourself how you feel after an over-enthusiastic training session – you feel it the next day! The program should include fast work for XC and skills training for dressage and SJ. Be sure that you know the speed/distance/time that you need to go at and practice this on the gallops. It amazes me that people don’t do this and are then exhausted at the end of the XC! Try to train at home and with your trainer above the level that you want to compete. Then you will find that the competition level feels easier and your confidence should grow. Be very realistic about the level that you aim to come out at. It is better to drop down one level – so our Novice horses will have a 100 run at the start of the season to get going, and then go on up if they feel good. I have always been a firm believer in keeping a horse at a level until it starts to feel easy and then moving up. Some horses take longer than others so be prepared to listen to your horse! It is very easy in a second to ruin years’ worth of work! If you are competing affiliated Eventing, try to find some unaffiliated warm up runs to save a tiny bit of money. It will also generally not go on your horses record just in case you have a hiccup or are a bit rusty! It’s also worth going and jumping some BS, even on a ticket, as the courses tend to be up to height and more technical than lower level event courses. It’s also important to make sure that you train your horse on different surfaces. Working on grass can seem very exciting to some after a winter on a surface! It’s also good for the riders to practice working on grass in dressage boards to rediscover the outside leg! Many places will hire an arena to practice. We put one up as soon as the ground is good enough to get the established horses back on grass but also teach the babies about white boards. When working on grass if it is slippy, we always stud so horses don’t lose confidence and shorten their side. As you get busier and do more with your horse, it is also important to reassess its diet. You may need to put the horse onto a more energy dense feed. Feeding oil is also a good idea for slow release energy. You should also supplement the diet with electrolytes before and after hard work when they are going to sweat. It’s a good idea to have a low level of normal table salt in the diet when they are getting toward the end of the fitness program and starting competing. Keep feeding as much forage as you can as this can help prevent ulcers and keep the gut working correctly. Be sure to look in your diary and make sure that you have stud holes put in for when you want to work on grass and for XC schooling. It’s a common error to suddenly realise that you have no holes! The choice of one or two holes is yours, but we tend to only have one hole on the younger horses as they tend to be less coordinated and at a greater risk of standing on themselves! As the horses become more balanced and are being asked to turn quicker and jump bigger we will put two in, but always put a smaller, blunter stud on the inside. If your horse has foot balance issues or has had pastern / hoof ligament problems, I would go for two so the foot is not being twisted and the medio-lateral balance preserved. It’s a good idea to write a list of all the things that you need to take with you on competition day. If you are not lucky enough to have a lorry that you can leave stuff on, it’s worth having a box packed up with your traveling extras in. Things to remember are: 1 First aid kit – both for horses and humans. You basically need to be able to deal with minor wounds and bandage things up. Anything more major will tend to be dealt with by the vet. We include arnica and instant cold packs in our travelling one for bruising. 2 Spare tack: Mainly for bits that may break such as reins or stirrup leathers, but you may also want to have a change of noseband, and a few different bits just in case. We also always have a neck strap in case something is really fresh! 3 Lunging kit: We have basic side reins, lunge line and a waterproof saddle cover so we can lunge if short of time or a horse looks very fresh. Also very good for anything that is a bit cold backed. 4 Changes of rugs / extra rugs: Competition centres seem to have a climate of their own, so always better to have an extra blanket and a waterproof throw over rug for emergencies. Also have a lightweight cooler, in case you travelled them in heavier fleece type rugs and the weather changes. 5 Spare shoes: Keep a set of shoes (with stud holes in) that have been taken off by the farrier. Tape them together and put the horses name on them. Then if you lose a shoe, it’s very easy to put one of these back on. It’s also worth having shoe pulling kit on in case something does half a job taking one off. 6 Washing down kit: Be sure to take more water than you think you need and at least 2 buckets with a couple of sponges and a sweat scraper. Think what would happen if you broke down or got stuck in traffic – could you keep the horses hydrated? 7 Spare hay / haylage: We only travel with haylage to keep the dust down, but again take more than you think you will need. This will then keep the horses content if you break down or there are long delays before prize giving! 8 Drinks and snacks for the rider: It’s important to stay hydrated and get energy into the rider. This helps with concentration and coordination. Isotonic drinks are good and energy dense snacks that don’t fill you up such as flapjacks. Try to train yourself to drink and eat a bit between phases, no matter how sick you feel!! It’s not a healthy diet to go to the burger van at every event! We put a lot of thought into feeding our horses, we should also do the same!

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