Wednesday, March 25, 2015

So, what have you done for me lately?

Conditioning Your Horse During Downtime

Unless you're living in some alternate reality, there has been a time in recent memory when your horse was down.  Out.  Not working.  On vaycay.  If you're on the East Coast of the US, it's still happening.  I had a brief moment of excitement when I saw that enough of the ice in the ring had melted for me to ride today...then I remembered that there's no gate to the ring because the plow took it out mid-winter.

It's going to be a while longer.

While you're waiting, there's a lot you can do to get the shaping-up process shaping up.  There's you, first.  When was the last time you picked up something heavier than a wine glass?  Can you still touch your toes?  Can you see them?  Can you bend over to the side without  needing help to get upright again?  Can you walk to the pasture without breathing hard?
Walk it off!

Starting from the bottom up is always a good plan.  I've posted before about the plethora of CD's and videos available for riders who need to get back into riding condition.  And there's the gym.  In my neighborhood, there's a gym that will let newbies pay-as-they-glow without actually joining long-term.  Not that long-term is bad.  Riding is an athletic event.  One can never have too many silk blouses or toned muscles.

If you're on the sunset side of Horse Mountain, you might want to think about something low-key like water aerobics.  I even found a water yoga class, which I will join the minute I get past the idea of a wet bathing suit on my body when it's still below freezing outside.  I had great results with a torn rotator cuff (thanks for that, Zip) in water aerobics.  Cut the healing time by 2/3 and gave me lots of other out-of-shape grownups for the sympathy vote.

But getting yourself into shape is a lot easier than fitting up your horse.  You're doing this by choice.  You can give yourself a lecture, some positive self-talk, a new pair of running shoes and the promise of a latte after, and you're good to go. Given his druthers, he'd be out in the pasture with his buds just hangin' and grazin' and maybe having a drink now and then.  Your workout will be active.  His is going to have to be passive, and you're likely going to have to resort to bribery.

The linked article has some really good passive stretching exercises for you to help your horse do.  And once the stretching has begun to limber up your partner, the article accurately points out that movement is key.  Keep him moving.  If it's only hand-walking, it's still movement.  Work up to under-saddle if he's older than you are (in horse years).

I would like to add one caveat to the calisthenics piece of the article, and that is:

Be careful what you teach (and you're always teaching something)!

If you're a long-time reader of my stuff, you know how important I have found this rule to be.  My daughter delighted in teaching her mare to bow and eventually to lie down on command.  The command involved holding the mare's front leg up and rocking her back until she gave up and slowly went down.  It was lovely.  It was cute.  It was fun.  And it nearly killed the horse shoer the next time he picked up that mare's front hoof.
For the rider, this little number, the iJoy
iBoard, is a painless way of regaining
balance and practicing an independent seat.
Don't try to put your horse on this.

A chiropractor insisted that I teach my big boy, Zip, the "carrot stretch".  That's the one where you poke the animal in the side with a carrot until he turns his head to snag it from you.  Excellent stretch.  Great fun for the horse.  Lots of carrots met their demise.  But when the same chiropractor came back for the next adjustment and she touched him on the side, Zip happily flung his head around to meet her finger and whacked her in the head.  She, in turn, whacked him in his head.  I lost her number afterwards.  Particularly concerning was that even after that debacle left her with a headache, she wanted me to teach him to shy his head away from my clawed hand if I raised it to him.  She, I'm guessing, couldn't see the unintended consequences.  I saw them.  They were not pretty.

So stretch your partner and do-si-do, but if you teach him something that might come back to haunt you when you aren't in fitness mode and just want to ride, it's on you, not on him.  Don't hate him for being smart enough to learn your tricks.  Hate yourself for being dumb enough to miss the obvious consequences.

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