Maintaining Your Halter Horse’s Peak, Part 2

Last week, you learned about bringing your horse to his peak; now let’s talk about the importance of giving him time to be a horse.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

AQHA Professional Horseman Luke Castle of Wayne, Oklahoma, says a horse cannot be expected to always be at his peak. Eventually, the horse has to be given a break or the horse will take one himself, so you have to know when to “back off.” We continue this series by asking Luke:

When you say back off, what does that look like?

There are two different ways that we do it:

One way is if you have a long period between shows. I had one horse last year that we got qualified for the AQHA World Championship Show in the spring - he was done, and the owners weren’t going to show him until the big shows later in the year.

We put him on a very limited diet - grass hay, a half scoop of oats - to reduce his weight. We took his shoes off and put him in the mare motel. We turned him out in the arena and just let him be a horse; we didn’t work or sweat him, and didn’t set him up. We didn’t brush him, but we gave him a bath once a week.

Seven weeks before Congress, we brought him back to the show barn to start back on him.

When you put that horse back in a program after backing off like that, he will come around faster. When you start pushing him, he’ll come back stronger.

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The other way we do it is if you have a shorter period between shows, say, that five-week window between the Adequan Select World Championship Show and the All American Quarter Horse Congress. In that case, we’d back his feed off somewhat and his brushing for two weeks, maybe turn the horse out a few days just to give him a break. Then three weeks before the show, we start pushing him again.

How do you plan a horse’s show schedule?

I constantly talk to my customers and owners to figure out a show schedule for the year.

You’ve got to look ahead and know where you’re going.

I go through my calendar every day, thinking, OK, three weeks until this show, five weeks until this one, the horses that are five weeks out, we’re going to do this with, and so on.

It really helps if you have it planned out even though it never works out exactly the way it’s supposed to.

The World Show is our goal every year, and we like to have horses qualified by March. The sooner we get them qualified, the sooner we can give them down time.

The horses that I see looking the best at the big shows are those that I can give a certain amount of down time to. When they get back into the program, they usually flourish and do really well.

Is there an “ultimate” peak?

When we finally get to the World Show, which is the top of the mountain that we work toward all year, when we get to the last week before the show, we back a horse off.

Say we’re working an older horse that takes 25 minutes of hard work to keep maintained - we might back him off to 10 minutes the week before the World Show. Then two days before we show him, we might just work him five minutes and not sweat him.

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It’s what I call “freshening” him up. It’s for his mind, so he’ll feel good. When a horse is peaked and you have short workouts, the energy builds and you freshen him up. I want him fresh and looking through that halter, and not having a worn-out look.

My horses look as good the week after the World Show, when we’re letting them down, as they do World Show week.

Are there other mistakes you see people make that affect their horses’ performance?

When you go to a horse show, that’s when you should spend even more time with your animal, watching him; he will get stressed out.

If he doesn’t eat like he does at home, or doesn’t drink the same, or doesn’t have the same perkiness, that shows he’s stressing out a little bit. If a horse is like that at a horse show, I won’t work him as hard as I do at home. I want him to get rested and let him build back up.

I’ll see people at a horse show work their horses even harder, and to me that’s the opposite of what you need to do. When I go to a weekend show, I very seldom sweat my horses; I work them to get the edge off them.

One thing that I try to do is not shoe my horses two days before they go to show. It’s like when you get a new pair of shoes, you’ve got to get used to them. A horse needs time to feel comfortable in them.