Spring Training for the Gaited Horse

While a horse may seem especially frisky and energetic in the spring, be aware that all that energy doesn't necessarily mean they're in good condition for long, hard rides. It's easy to overdo things in the spring, which may result in many months of total layoff.

We're all familiar with the fact that horses who have not been used for riding over the winter months need to be worked back into good condition gradually. This is even more true of the gaited horse, who has had all winter to 'deprogram' and 'decondition' their gait muscles while running at liberty. The younger the horse, the more slowly the rider should plan to take his or her spring training program.

If a horse is over the age of six, and been ridden regularly for several seasons, it will condition up much faster than a three, four or five year old animal. By this time the gait is probably well established as well, so you'll be up to speed in a relatively short period of time. However, if you're accustomed to riding a certain gaited horse for long distances and/or at speed, it's easy to take the horse's abilities for granted, and overdo in the spring. Be sensitive, and try to imagine the difference between your condition when you're working with your body full time, and after you've taken several months off to play couch potato. I have one nice mare with so much heart that I have to always remain vigilant, as she would no doubt work herself to death if I weren't careful to prevent her from overdoing.

A very young gaited horse ought not to be ridden for more than a half hour or so, and that only at an easy walk. The speed, length and difficulty of each ride should be increased gradually according to the horse's individual needs. The good news is that working your horse at walk transitions is also the best way to re condition it for gait work. The slower, easy pace of your spring rides will help to condition your body for the more strenuous summer riding months, as well.

When you start your spring gait training, don't limit your work to meandering slowly down the trail in a straight line. Keep the rides interesting and fresh, while increasing the conditioning factor of a ride, by doing some work in circles, figure eights, and figurines. Practice proper halts, half halts, and rein backs. Spice things up with a short 'walk race' with a riding partner. If you should find yourself out on the trail longer than the optimal length of time, by all means take a break: dismount and let your horse find a few mouthfuls of sweet young grass shoots.

Here's wishing all of you a wonderful riding season!
Brenda Imus