Care Involved in Exercising

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Please Note: These are suggestions. If you have any questions, or if you are unsure of how these will affect your horse, please contact your veterinarian or local horse professional.

How do you exercise your horses? Do they receive the appropriate amount of care and attention before, during and after periods of physical activity? Many horse owners make the mistake of overlooking prepping their horse before vigorous riding as well as helping the horse recover quickly from physical exertion. Here are some tips on how to properly care for your horse for exercise:

The change from rest to work should be gradual. As a guideline, a horse should spend one week only walking, one week walking and trotting over increased distances, and another week with an introduction to canter. If you are trying to get your horse fit enough for competition, it is recommended longer intervals are spent on each stage. The change from work to rest must also be gradual; it is unhealthy immediately to start from, or revert to, intense periods of work from a phase of inactivity.

Add electrolytes and other supplements to your horse's water to increase recoveryWarming up the horse before exercise is essential as it promotes circulation and loosens tense muscles. Before riding, walk and trot a stabled horse up and down in hand a few times. This should help loosen the horse’s muscles by increasing the blood flow to the muscles. Exertion produces lactic acid; warming up the muscles allows the blood flow to carry away lactic acid as soon as it forms.

Horses may drink some water during exercise in order to prevent dehydration. After very physical exercise, give the horse a little water at a time, to which you can add electrolytes and other horse supplements. Refrain from giving your horse a large meal soon after physical activity; its digestive system will not be able to properly digest the feed since most of the animal’s blood will still be concentrated in its muscles.

Remove excess sweat from your horse using a sweat scraper. Shop for Sweat Scrapers and other Coat Care productsOnce the physical activity is finished, cool the horse off slowly. Walk for about ten minutes at the end of a fast hack or other work. After the brief walk, wash off the sweat; you can simply use a brush if the temperatures are too cool. Sponge down sweaty areas, paying special attention to the saddle area, between the legs, and under the belly. Make sure the horse is not in a location that it will be susceptible to drafts when it is wet or sweaty. If the horse is tacked up without being washed, dirt will rub against the skin, causing scratches, irritations and other skin problems.

Use a sweat scraper to remove excess water. In warm weather, let the horse dry slowly; as the water evaporates, it creates a natural cooling effect for the horse. Wash the heels and pasterns and then dry them thoroughly with a towel. These areas are especially vulnerable to mud fever, a painful infection that infiltrates wet skin; horses with white legs are particularly susceptible. Quietly walk the horse until all the sweat or water has evaporated from the coat and the horse is dry. Never leave the wet horse standing in a stable.

During events and shows, make sure the horse is adequately warmed up before each class. Between classes, check that the animal is comfortable and has access to clean water and hay. During show performances, a horse may wear a bit longer than normal. Moisten inside its mouth with a wet sponge at least once before each class. When you have finished an event, tend to the horse. Walk it around in an anti-sweat sheet to relax the animal and to ensure its temperature is stable before being loaded in the trailer for the trip home.

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