Monday, January 30, 2012

Winter Conditioning for the Older Horse, Part I

photo credit: andreavallejos via photopin cc

With 4-H season looming and all the unusually beautiful weather we've been having here in the mountains for January, I thought I'd talk about something other than writing for a change. The fact that I've been able to ride on a fairly regular basis this early in the new year is pretty cool, though I'm not quite sure what to think about the horses losing their winter coats so early. We'll see how they feel come the next zero-degree blizzard. Fortunately, Zzari has his blankie to keep him warm, though Bearkhat has to tough it out a bit more, grizzled old mountain pony that he is.

My wonderful gelding Zzari (who I've owned/been owned by since he was three) just turned 26. While this isn't considered ancient for an Arabian, he's definitely no spring chicken anymore, and there are certain things I have to take into account when it comes to riding and conditioning.

For one thing, those joints aren't as young as they once were, especially for a horse I used to ride in 50-mile endurance races, over downed trees in the forest and even over a cross-country course or two (in addition to the regular dressage training we did for years). I'm lucky in that Zzari has remained completely sound throughout the time I've had him (save for one temporarily bowed tendon due to a run-in with a pipe corral), but now that he's a senior, I'm not taking any chances.

I don't feed him much differently than I used to (a bit more Equine Senior every day, maybe), and he's not ridden too differently either (though his workload has definitely tapered off in recent years). One thing I do make sure to do is a long, slow warm-up and a long, slow cool-down each time I ride him - especially when it's colder out and he's wearing his winter long-undie fur coat. In fact, it's safe to say I generally don't work him up to a sweat in the winter at all. The days are too short for a proper cool-down after an afternoon ride, and you never know when an icy wind is going to kick up around here.

In a later post I'll get more into what we've specifically been doing this year so far and what we're looking at for the spring and summer months as far as workload and competition.

In the meantime, for any horsey folks reading this, what are you and your four-leggeds up to this winter?

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