Your horse will not forget his previous training, whether he’s had several weeks or even months off from riding. In fact, horses have one of the best memories of any animal. Ease him back into a training regimen to recall his training and, depending on his personality and experience, remind him of basic manners. The most important aspect of his re-entering work is doing so slowly to prevent injury.
Start Slowly and Build
Refresh your horse’s ground work basics. By going back to ground work -- handling your horse without being in the saddle -- you are reminding him to respect you. You also are beginning the process of loosening and suppling his muscles and joints. You may need only a few sessions, depending on how much he’s been handled while he’s been off work. Flex the head and neck by picking up the lead rope and drawing it back gently, applying just enough pressure until he responds by turning his nose to his girth area. Then ask him to yield his hindquarters and forequarters by applying minimum pressure on each of these areas. Finally, ask him to back up with you standing in front of him and picking up the lead rope wiggling the rope until he takes a step back. Repeat these daily sessions until he responds immediately the first time you ask.
Start exercising your horse on the lunge line. This can be tricky, since many horses, particularly those on stall rest and restricted turn out, often get very ambitious the first time on the lunge line. This increases the chance of a reinjury. If you can turn out your horse for a few days or weeks prior to retraining, he can release some of this physical and mental energy. Working quietly with him on the ground a few days prior also will help. Then begin by walking him on the lunge line three to five minutes the first day. Add three to five minutes of walking and add trotting each day. Build up until he is walking and trotting 20 minutes each.
Begin riding your horse. Go on a 40-minute trail ride, or 20 to 30 minutes of walking and trotting. When he stops displaying signs of fatigue after these rides, add a few minutes of cantering or loping -- but remember when you increase the intensity of his exercise program, you must decrease the duration. So, for example, if he is comfortable with 30 minutes of walking and trotting, you can replace 5 minutes of trotting with 5 minutes of cantering but keep the entire exercise time to 30 minutes. After one month, vary his daily routine with a program of slow and long rides interspersed with shorter rides of more intense conditioning.
Add strengthening exercises for your horse’s abdomen muscles, back and hindquarters. Start by walking and then trotting over ground poles. When your horse does this effortlessly, raise the poles slightly and vary the spacing between them. You can then take him over small jumps and grids -- jumps that are spaced with just one to two strides between each jump. Outside the arena, find a hill to walk up and trot down.
- Horse Science News: Horses Remember Training from Years Ago
- EquiMed: One Method Does Not Work for All Horses
- Texas A&M University Department of Animal Science, Equine Sciences Program: Scientific Principles for Conditioning Race and Performance Horses
- Equisearch: Ease Your Horse Back Into Work
- Clinton Anderson Clinician Academy: Curriculum – Groundwork Exercises
- Adjust your horse’s feed during his return to work. He may need more fat for energy or an increase in his grain.
- Cool down your horse with several minutes of slow trotting and walking to remove lactic acid from his muscles.
- Look for signs of fatigue after each workout, such as flaring nostrils and labored breathing. Stop any workout if your horse seems fatigued or begins tripping.
Based in Central Texas, Karen S. Johnson is a marketing professional with more than 30 years' experience and specializes in business and equestrian topics. Her articles have appeared in several trade and business publications such as the Houston Chronicle. Johnson also co-authored a series of communications publications for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She holds a Bachelor of Science in speech from UT-Austin.