Athlete or Couch Potato
By Carole Herder
Moving is part of a horse’s very sense of well-being. He needs the ability to run. He needs both the space in which to run, as well as the good health that makes him capable. It is rare for many of us to ride our horses often and long enough to keep them at peak fitness. I know I struggle with this. We must provide them opportunities to exercise otherwise.
Creating an environment that encourages movement for your horse will support his health and level of fitness. You can move his food to different parts of your land requiring him to move throughout the space. You may put feed and water in separate locations making him cover more ground throughout the day. If you have smaller acreage, you may consider creating alleyways or a labyrinth in the paddock. Jamie Jackson wrote about a concept called Paddock Paradise, which creates a template method for you to design your property and has a number of ideas for you to consider. Navigating the paths provides exercise as the horse makes his way to food and water. Sometimes you can shake up your horse’s movement routine by introducing him to a different environment with other horses. He will have to establish a new pecking order and hunt for food thereby increasing his exercise. If you have a neighbour you can switch horses with from time to time. It can create some excitement in the pasture.
Here is a link to our friend Joe Camp’s way of creating a paddock paradise for his fine equine friends. Click Here.
Lungeing, like any exercise, needs to be utilized only if your horse can physically handle it. The stressors on the legs can be a worry if your horse is not really fit. Just be aware that mindlessly going around in circles is probably not too much fun. You can get creative and engage with your horse by varying the speeds and directions through body language or word cues, making things more fun and interesting for both of you.
Sometimes when I haven’t been able to ride for a while, I’ll just pick up the lunge whip and saunter over to my horses, clucking. The intention is not really to chase them, but more to encourage some movement. If they are ready to run – they’re off! The other day, after doing nothing for two weeks, one of my horses ran directly into the arena and lunged herself – independent of my cues. I just stood there and watched. Tail straight in the air, she performed her roll backs, circles and flat out gallops. I love this expression of freedom! I always make sure that we have a nice cuddle after lungeing, so they don’t think of me as too much of a predator.
As he gets older, your horse will be more of a couch potato and require a calmer, gentler life and movement routine. At the same time some type of movement is a must. If you look and listen, your horse will tell you what he needs, wants and can do.