The Importance of Cross Training
We all have our favourite ways of getting our horses legged up for the upcoming season and everyone has an idea of what has worked well for their horse in the past, BUT I know how easy it can be to focus on one thing and get stuck in the habit of repeatedly drilling certain exercises or movements as we try to make them perfect… This is exactly what we should not do for our horses!
It is so important for any athlete, ESPECIALLY the older equine athletes, to cross train and have a well rounded program. Cross training can lower the chance of injury (which increases in old age!) and can make your rest days even more productive. It can be as simple as putting a few poles on the ground to trot through, or maybe add a cavalletti in! Even going for a hack on a nice afternoon on a recovery day after a having done a more intensive training day previously is an awesome way to cross train. This will give your horses mind a break, keeping them from getting sour from repetitive work in the arena. Not to mention it can improve their coordination, balance, and range of motion. If I have time during a ride, I love riding out as it makes for a great warm up and cool down!
When I go for a ride out in the field I like to use this time to work on my horse's walk, collecting and extending, and halting. This changes the scenery and the footing, which keeps things a little more interesting for both of us! If the ground is safe I like to work on all of our gaits, making sure my mare keeps listening to me and stays balanced. The uneven ground (when used properly) is good for her stabilizing muscles and balance. The stronger these are, the more the leg and whole body is stabilized and protected from injury.
If you are looking for something to do in the arena (our weather does not always permit for a comfortable ride outside!) poles or cavalletti work is always useful to keep both you and your horse interested in your work! I like to use poles to help my horse lengthen her stride and pick up her feet a little bit more than she normally would. This will increase range of motion and help your horse to activate muscles they are not used to using.
There are so many ways to mix up your horses program, these are just a couple easy options that most of us have access to. These fun days can be used on your horses rest days, or days after a very hard ride, as it is more productive to move and stimulate recovering muscles than to let them sit idle in a stall. So take him for a ride outside or try something new, your horse’s mind and body will thank you!