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Here’s 3 hot tips for building a long-term show horse

By DANA HOKANA / Horsetrader correspondent - June 30th, 2010 - Q&A Dear Dana

Showing older horses is something I value and work toward. All horses deserve to have long-term careers — it takes the Spanish riding school years to develop their horses, and the highest level horses are in their teens before performing the difficult maneuvers. They spend remarkable time layering and building a solid foundation.

That foundation is a key to a long-term horse, along with keeping the horses mind fresh and also keeping them sound.

1. The first tip includes layering and building a solid foundation. I carefully evaluate the horses reactions to my cues. Are they stiff, resistant or cranky? Do they need reminders on how to say yes to these cues? Are they angry at my leg? If so, maybe I need some exercises to remind my horse to be supple, soft and accepting. Are they tough in the face? I may need to bend them around or back them off the bridle. During every ride I practice basic exercises to keep my horses willing and supple. Developing and maintaining a horse who is accepting and willing is very important.

How they present themselves in the show arena is directly related to how this foundational work is maintained in the practice pen. If I am working with a pleasure horse, I do most of my warm-up work in the middle of the arena. I supple, strengthen and lengthen the stride through different exercises as I am evaluating their responses and eliminating resistance. I work on the quality of each gait to enhance the horses movements. If I am riding horsemanship, reining, or trail horses I rarely work on the entire pattern, I separate each maneuver. Varying the horses’ workouts make it more fun and challenging, for horse and rider.

2. The next key to a long-term show horse is to maintain or school him in the show ring.
I do this carefully, as I want to keep the experience a good one. In order to have a successful older horse they must enjoy their job. People and horses will have good and bad days, I try to make the overall experience enjoyable.

Another problem associated with older horses is cheating. Horses who have the opportunity to cheat usually become cheaters. I try to eliminate these opportunities by preventing the horse’s anticipation of my cues. One principle I keep in my mind is the average horse needs correction or schooling in approximately one out of every three goes in the show arena. This may vary horse to horse but it is a good average. I rarely punish a horse severely in the show pen, people who punish harshly while showing develop horses who hate or dread classes. I use subtle corrections like making the horse wait after the announcer calls for a lope, picking the horse up for collection and bridling, or waiting to reverse. In reining classes I may not change leads where the horse is expecting it or I may run them to the fence to stop. If your horse is cheating in the show arena, watch for signs in the warm-up pen — they are often lacking in some of their foundational training. It important to not be disrespectful to judges or to other exhibitors as you are schooling your horse. Also remember do not stop in front of or mess-up someone else’s go, it is an excellent way to upset other exhibitors. I often pick smaller shows or classes to school for this reason.

3. The third tip is to work and perform maintenance to keep horses sound. A sound comfortable horse will be much happier than a hurting or uncomfortable horse. Most older horses have soundness issues. I seek the help of top veterinarian and working in conjunction with them I come up with individual programs for my older horses. The most important part of the program is regular exercise. Hoof soreness and navicular are directly related to blood flow, standing in the stall without exercise can make these conditions worse. Arthritis can also worsen if a horse stands in a stall for too long. Some older horses need corrective shoeing so seek the help of a top farrier as shoeing is important to soundness. When I am not riding these older horses, I make sure they are longed daily. I start with a good warm-up such as walking 5 to 10 minutes, jogging 5 to 10 minutes, then loping 5 to 10 minutes, and finally cooling down for 5 minutes. Turnout can be good as long as the long horse does not play so hard they injure themselves. When riding these horses I also warm them up and cool them down carefully. I also do a lot of medium trotting and stretching. A great vet once told me that starting every workout with 10 minutes of medium trotting will keep horses sound Many older horses get shorter in their stride so I will encourage them to drive, reach, and lengthen their strides. I also spend time driving my horses to their face at the walk, trot, and lope. I practice driving at an arc and reverse acre to supple and strengthen. A physically fit horse is a strong horse who is better able to resist strains, tears, and many lameness problems.


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