As spring has sprung and many of us are working on getting our horses and ourselves prepared for the upcoming rodeo season, I think it is good for all of us to think a minute about getting our horses physically in shape to go be competitive. Many rodeo horses are great athletes but with this extreme talent and try comes inherent risk for injury. One of the issues that we as equine veterinarians deal with daily is the lameness and pain that comes from the athletic horse hurting them selves while in work. One of the ways that competitors can limit the amount of time and money lost to lack of performance and reduce the trips to come see me is to have the horse in better physical condition. As we lay the ground work for any athlete we need to remember that a slow incremental increase in work load is going to be the safest way to advance.
What I am going to describe is only a guideline for getting an arena sprinting horse in condition. It is paramount that we evaluate each horse daily to know how that individual is responding to the work that we are putting it through. Failure to listen to the horse may slow our progress or cause harm. When we are preparing a rodeo we must remember that the horse is basically a sprinter. Many of our events can be completed without the horse taking many breaths during the run and so we need to work towards conditioning the athlete in that manner. Before we can advance in true sprint training we must first have a fit, conditioned and sound individual. One way that we can lay that ground work is to start off with as simple one half mile trot and then follow by a one half mile gallop. We can then increase the distance galloping by one half mile every five days. Now we must not forget that this is just simply a conditioning program. We can add any light training to this as we go. It is important to consider that when this foundation is being laid down we are trying to work over good ground that is not either extremely deep or hard. Most importantly, we should try to keep the horse in straight lines of work when conditioning, to allow the horse to stay balanced and symmetrical in its muscle condition. As well, the trot is just a warming and stretching gait allowing the horse to work at a long trot is more productive. The galloping is not just a three beat lope for fun but working more to a four beat gait that covers the mile in a three and one half minute to four minute time frame. By using this example, if we continue to work the horse and advance for thirty five days then we will be trotting one half mile and galloping four three and one half minute miles at about the thirty fifth day. When we get to this distance then we need to stay there and start adding other forms of training to strengthen as we have laid the foundation. It is important that we listen to the horse in this conditioning program. Some signs that we need to slow down or have the horse evaluated include weight loss, joint swelling, lameness or unwillingness to work. I recommend all performance horse are evaluated before the competitive season to insure that the horse is as sound and comfortable as they can be to maximize the performance and success. After completing this first thirty days of serous conditioning is a good time to have your veterinarian do a thorough lameness examination of the horse to make sure there are no subtle issues that need addressed before they become large ones. In subsequent articles we can discuss in more depth the techniques for further conditioning the sprinting athlete. Don’t forget to listen to the horse. Good luck. Wade Shoemaker DVM