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19Jun 14

Your horse as a body-builder

Your horse as a body builder

The process of guiding your horse through its career is not always a smooth one. We are learning as the horse is learning so mistakes will be made. My philosophy has always been: as long as we are not purposely torturing our horse and doing everything we can to overcome the obstacles, our horses will forgive us.

In the wild horses are busy looking for food, water, shade or shelter and can’t always find it. It is freedom but tough. Predators are another serious issue. When our horse lives with us it has none of those problems (I hope!). Fresh water every day, a field shelter or a stable with plenty of bedding and probably more food than necessary. In order to have that cushy life they have to do one hour of work for us six days a week, with the odd uncomfortable moment because we get it wrong.

One of the things we must take quite seriously, though, is muscle soreness. We ourselves complain, after a serious flatwork session or even a long old hack, about barely being able to walk. We often forget that our horse will probably feel the same. Our horse needs to be treated like an athlete, just like for example a body-builder.

It is very important to be able to detect whether the horse is muscle sore and find out why. Is it because of the correct exercises and it will settle down with a long walk, have you overdone it and need more days with light work to overcome the stiffness or is it a balance problem between you and your horse which needs attention?

As the horse moves from being an inexperienced and undeveloped youngster to the higher levels dressage, show-jumping, eventing or any other equine sport the changes in its body are enormous. Here are two interesting examples.

Years ago, when fairly inexperienced but really keen, I was visiting a top dressage yard. As I was wandering around the stables when most horses were having a nap after their midday feed they all seemed to be asleep kind of `on the bit’ but in a completely relaxed state. So far all the horses I had seen asleep were dangling their head way down. By the time I produced my first horse to Prix St. Georges she slept the same way. I realised, it is all muscle!

Not too long ago I was lunging a very good horse for a client. I have lunged him once a week for just over a year, as he was a bit of a challenge for his owner, at times. At the end of the session I asked her to come and have a look at the side reins. I wanted to show her on the horse the difference in length of the side reins between now and a year ago: three inches. Also they now were attached nearly on the withers. During that process he has developed a keen interest in his job instead of pulling tricks to avoid a bit of sweat. We monitored this development like hawks.

A sore horse just does not enjoy its work and also, it is cruel and can create serious injuries.



Dressage Training

Dressage training needs variety, including pole work

Dressage Training

Dressage training needs variety, including pole work

About Liz Barclay

Her love for horses together with her dedication made her into the trainer and dressage rider she is, today. She is versatile and inventive and likes a challenge; whether it is a technical training question, a confidence issue or a problem involving the management of the horse or pony.


My book 'THE FARMER, THE COAL MERCHANT, THE BAKER...' with the subtitle 'A Personal Impression of the Development of the Gelderland Horse World' has been received with more enthusiasm than I possibly could have hoped for. Click here to contact me and I will send you a copy. £7.50 + postage, or click here to order from Amazon.