Opinion

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Is your horse fit enough to start the showing season? I ask this for two reasons.

One is that some judges say they are seeing too many fat animals, particularly in pony classes. The other is that some riders believe that the best way to cope with a buzzy horse is to deliberately keep him unfit, but work him hard before a class.

Both tactics are counter-productive. Apart from health issues linked to obesity, a fit horse looks much better than a fat one. Good muscle tone adds to the picture and catches a judge’s eye for the right reasons.

A horse must be fit enough for the work he is asked to do and you should only work him according to his fitness level. If you push him too hard, he’ll become sour and you’ll put strain on his joints, risk making him unsound and shorten his working life.

I don’t let my horses down over the winter. They go hacking, hunting and jumping, so stay muscled but have fun. If you bring horses back into work after a break, you must start with weeks of walk work — and, if possible, hill work — because if you don’t do your fittening work correctly, you risk injury.

Some riders say their horses work better if kept out all the time. That may be the case, but these horses still need enough work to build and maintain their fitness.

You might only do one or two classes at a show, but your horse also has the physical stress of travelling and the adrenaline rush that comes from being in different surroundings. If you set off early and end up in a championship late in the day, it’s important to take your horse off the horsebox at intervals, walk him around and, if possible, let him graze in hand.

Build your fitness

We must think about our own fitness, too. So much knowledge has filtered through from other disciplines, particularly eventing, that we can make use of.

I find that riding several horses a day keeps me fit enough for showing. If you can’t ride every day, don’t expect to arrive at a show, warm up and win a class — you need to run, cycle or swim to build your fitness and do your horse justice.

The retrained racehorses at the Cheltenham Festival were a picture of health. The Retraining of Racehorses charity has done so much to promote the value and potential of these horses, so good luck if you have one this season. But be patient. They have such structured lives in racing that it can take up to three years for their personalities to blossom in a one-to-one relationship with a new rider, but when it happens, it’s fantastic.

Ref Horse & Hound; 7 April 2017