Top human athletes know all about the benefits of doing a variety of training to keep themselves fit and healthy, and to avoid injury. Often when it comes to our horses, we tend to get stuck in the same routine and will practice transitions on a 20 meter circle three times a week instead of giving our equestrian partners some more variety in their work.
But cross-training and varied work reaps both physical and mental benefits for horses, and can help to improve their performance in your discipline of choice. Here’s our top five reasons to vary the work your horse does.
1. It Decreases Chance of Injury
If you went to the gym and only ever lifted one set of weights in the exact same way every day for a few years, you would probably end up with a repetitive strain injury – especially if you did that one exercise very intensively or for long periods of time. Similarly, horses who only jump or always school on the flat in the same place and same way tend to stress particular joints and soft tissues more than others.
Varying the work that horses do and the surfaces they work on allows them to work other parts of their body too and decreases the chance of stress injuries. As an example, Dressage horses who are doing a lot of collected work in the sand arena could also do some polework, small jumps, or go on trail rides on the beach or on grassy areas to get used to working different muscles and tendons and to strengthen them overall.
2. It Has Benefits For Their Wellbeing
Admittedly, some horses really do love their jobs and could do them day in and day out. Even those horses tend to get holidays and some downtime in their work, though! For the most part though, providing your horse with varied tasks gives them more stimulation and keeps them happier.
If your horse is feeling or acting a little bit arena sour, it can do wonders for them to get out and about on trails, for instance. Those who only do trails might find that their horse perks up a bit when he sees a jump.
As with anything, variety is the spice of life! Just ask Dressage champion Carl Hester, who ensures that his horses get ridden out on the trails, and even do a bit of eventing from time to time. Ingrid Klimke is a huge fan of polework and cavaletti training for all of her horses, whether they’re Dressage specialists or top class eventers.
3. It Can Improve Your Main Discipline
Those of us who thrive on a bit of competition might just be convinced to do some different work because it really can go a long way toward improving your performance in your main discipline, whatever that is.
Jumping horses definitely benefit from improving their Dressage as the canter becomes more adjustable and the horse engages better. Dressage horses benefit from jumping because it can help to develop more cadence and push, as well as help you learn to really ride forward and committed. Horses who mostly go out on the trails can definitely reap the benefits of flatwork by having a horse who is easier to move around when you’re closing and opening gates, or give you more tools to deal with a horse who is spooking or getting hot and strong. Really, almost all horses can benefit from cross training in terms of improving their general rideability and way of going.
4. It Improves Fitness and Overall Strength
Varying your horse’s work doesn’t just mean cross-training in different disciplines. It can also mean varying the intensity of work your horse does each week. For instance, you might also want to play around with some sessions which are slower sessions focusing on stretching and long and low work interspersed with some rides which are more high intensity and feature lots of canter work. You may decide that you need to spend an hour once a week only in walk, or do some hill work in trot.
Even within one gait, there’s space for some wiggle room and variety – do you want to do a few long and steady working canters to build general endurance, or do lots of short but high intensity canters for interval training and increasing cardiovascular fitness quickly? Even a horse who is very fit and happy trotting out on long trails might struggle with half an hour of interval training in canter. A fit young event horse might find lots of lateral work more tiring than you’d imagine.
Mixing it up to ensure that you vary the intensity and type of training can work wonders in improving your horse’s overall fitness and strength.
Just like human athletes, a variety of different work and training is key to developing a well-rounded, sound, and happy horse. Next time you head out to ride, consider switching up your usual routine and adding something new to the mix.
Do you give your horse a mixture of different work? Let us know about your weekly routine in the comments!