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By Dr Annie Bevins MA Vet MB MRCVS, in-house veterinary advisor to KBIS British Equestrian Insurance

The Horse & Hound Festival of Eventing offers a wonderful opportunity for grassroots riders to experience the challenge and camaraderie of a three-day event. Competitors will be confident at the level they have entered, but for many this will be their first three-day and perhaps even “stay away” competition. Ideally both rider and horse will have worked on fitness as three consecutive days competing can be both mentally and physically tiring.

The key to an enjoyable stay is preparation. Have check lists and all the kit packed in an organised manner. Arrive in plenty of time and get your horse settled in. If he/she is a stressy type, ensure that you use the same feed and water receptacles as at home so the stable smells of something familiar. If possible take your own water with you as some horses do not like to drink strange-tasting water when away.

Keep to the same routine as much as possible and avoid the temptation to feed extra concentrates. I suggest making all the feeds up in advance, using carrier bags or similar. This saves time and ensures that you do not run out of something vital, but take an extra day’s supply in case of emergencies. If your horse goes out at home, I would advise taking some dried grass, wet it slightly and have it available in the stable in addition to hay or haylage. If possible, take your own forage — as a rough guide a horse will eat about two-and-a-half times his nightly ration if in all day and night. Grass or hay cubes scattered on the floor can mimic grazing activity, and if your horse is unwilling to drink, can be made into a thin “soup” with warmed water which smells appetising and gets fluid into them. Whenever possible, take your horse out of the stable for a walk or pick of grass.

Horse-picking-grass_Kbiss

When possible take your horse out for a pick of grass, especially if he is normally turned out at home

Do not be surprised if your horse is a little more excited than usual on dressage day, especially if this is his first big event. Ideally ride him for a short time before you start getting ready. You will then have an idea of the amount of warm up required. If you use calmers, remember that these must be “legal” i.e. free from prohibited substances. After your test wash off and then let your horse have some down time before the big day tomorrow.

Depending on your start time on cross county day, aim to feed and water as you would at home. Forage should be available until you start to tack up. This will act as a reservoir for fluid in his gut ensuring that he will stay hydrated. Electrolytes or salt in the feed can encourage drinking, but if electrolytes are given in water, fresh water should also be available. Ulcer-prone horses should be given a small chaff feed half an hour before competing.

It is important both to warm up and cool down correctly. Allow plenty of time for stretching and suppling exercises before starting to jump. However exhilarated you are on crossing the finish line, do not pull up immediately, but slow the canter for a few moments, gradually trot then walk to meet your support team. Ideally you will have someone at the finish with buckets of water, sponges and a sweat scraper. If your horse is blowing heavily, keep him walking whilst you remove the saddle, throw water over his body and scrape it off and repeat. Offer a small amount of water to drink at each “turn”. Remove his boots and apply cold water to the tendons in the same fashion. Once he has recovered a cooler can be put on and the horse returned to his stable. Any minor nicks can be bathed here, water offered and his legs bandaged as necessary. Under BE rules, no prohibited substances may be used including creams or ointments. I would use a simple hydrogel or aluminium spray on any scrapes. Once over his exertions on the cross country your horse will appreciate a thorough groom and massage.

Settling-your-horse_KBIS

Using the same water receptacles as you do at home can help your horse settle due to ‘familiar smells’

The following morning take the horse out of the stable and give him a quick jog to check for soundness. I would advocate a good 20-30minute walk before the trot up to ensure he presents at his best. The vet will be looking for any sign of lameness which might mean that he could harm himself if he were to progress to showjumping, but slight stiffness is to be expected. Once the vet inspection is over then all that remains is to prepare for the finale of show jumping. The horse will probably not require a long warm up for this just some further loosening and to pop one or two fences should suffice. Good luck.