People often think I am crazy when I say that my competition horses get regular massages and chiropractic adjustments! Seems like overkill, right? However, sport-horses are athletes too! As competitors, we expect a lot from our horse partners. They typically work five to six days a week at shows for sometimes several weeks in a row. Thus, sport-horses must be treated like the athletes they are. Adequate fitness, rest, and special care is highly important.
Horse shows typically consist of at least two days of showing (more depending on the discipline or divisions the horse competes in), and one or two days of practice. When I have traveled far from home for shows, I would typically stay through the whole circuit (usually two to three weeks). Local shows make it possible to bring the horses home between competition days, and most of the schooling and practice is done at home. However, the typical horse show schedule is as follows: The horses often have Monday off, and begin their week Tuesdays (if they show on the weekends, they are sometimes off Tuesday as well); there is one to two days of schooling, and possibly doing small warm-up divisions, then at least two days of showing. All in all, horse shows consist of at least five days of work with two or more of those days being show days – which are fairly strenuous. So, sport-horses (like human athletes) must stay very fit and have adequate rest and recovery time to avoid injury! And it is extremely important that they are not overworked, or over-jumped. Keeping sport-horses ready for competition involves a balance between exercise and rest.
With hunters, I typically ride four to five days (at home) – two or three of those days include jumping. However, I do not always jump horses the height they compete at and they rarely work for more than thirty to forty minutes (including walk breaks). Many days they work less than thirty minutes, depending on what we are working on. I find that the horses I have owned/trained tend to respond to more days of light-medium work, rather than a few days of hard work in a week.
Someone once told me that horses only have so many jumps in them, so preserving them for competition is very important. A marathon runner is not going to run 26.2 miles every single day, so a grand prix horse does not need to jump five feet every day! Also, taking time off between horse shows is important. After several weeks straight of horse showing, any level of sport-horse should have at least a week off to recover. If it is just a weekend show here and there, a day or two off after is usually plenty. I also highly recommend that very competitive horses get regular massages and chiropractic adjustments from certified equine massage therapists and chiropractors. And lots of time out in the pasture to just chill is great for their minds when they are at home 🙂