Your trusty all-around mount requires a unique horse-training schedule that keeps him physically fit without inducing burnout and boredom.
June 3, 2013
From The American Quarter Horse Journal
Horses like Superhorse contender Ashleys Bo Doc are prized possessions in the horse industry. They’ve been around the arena long enough to know their events, and they’re completely spook-proof. They ooze all-around talent, and the key to success is managing that talent while maintaining a good horse-rider partnership. In other words, you’ve got to find creative ways to keep your four-legged Bo Jackson in tip-tip shape and perfectly tuned to you.
AQHA Professional Horsewoman Chris Thompson gives us a glimpse at “Oscar’s” riding and horse training schedule. No matter which events you and your horse perform in, you can use her advice to keep your seasoned all-around horse tuned up and happy when show time comes around.
When the Journal checked in with Chris and Oscar back in 2004, he was then a 9-year-old sorrel gelding being shown in hunter hack, hunter under saddle, pleasure driving and working hunter. He was then owned by the Peter J. Cofrancesco Jr. Estate and had earned two world championships and numerous top-10 placings since the 1999 AQHA World Championship Show. Chris took him to the 2002 reserve World Show Superhorse title.
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Oscar knew his job, as his accomplishments attest. Chris’s challenge was keeping Oscar happy about his events while maintaining his high performance level. At 9 years old with no injuries, he had the potential for a long career as long as his trainer continued to spark his interest.
Chris longed Oscar 10-15 minutes before every workout, then she started with hunter under saddle flat work. Chris says that, even though Oscar knew his stuff, she always established the basics during every practice. It kept him framed and supple, and it helped her remember to maintain good riding skills.
“I’ve found that hunter under saddle lays the groundwork for the rest of your events,” she says. “If you’re riding well in hunter under saddle, your jumping and pleasure driving should be good. You have everything how you want it from the hunter under saddle foundation.
Rather than always riding along the rail of an arena for her hunter under saddle warm-up, Chris often chose to use the farm’s track – a large, fenceless area that kept Oscar from feeling confined and bored. After 10 or so minutes of long trotting, easy cantering, flexing and bending, Chris would choose another activity. Depending on the day of the week, she would jump a few low fences, work on lead changes, lope over poles on the ground, hook up the driving cart, perform equitation patterns, maneuver a trail obstacle or simply trail ride away from the barn.
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“Don’t try to do everything every day,” she says, “After your hunter under saddle warm-up, choose one activity to spend 15-20 minutes at, then end for the day,”
To see a visual example of Chris's workout and show schedule for Oscar, check out the "pin" on AQHA's Pinterest board.
What Matters Most
“It’s important to keep your older horse physically fit,” Chris says. “Take good care of your horse at home and maintain good body condition. If your horse is happy and content, it’ll be good to you in the show ring.”
Good care includes excellent nutrition, adequate turnout, stall rest, proper warm-up and adequate, stimulating exercise.
No matter which exercise Chris chose for Oscar, she always abided by her rule: “Always end on a good note.”
Varying up her exercise routines each day ensures that Chris didn’t jump Oscar too much. After all, working hunter courses are physically demanding and can take a toll on older horses. They can also get monotonous to your horse.
Especially during the busy show season, she limited Oscar’s jumping practice to a couple of times a week, just enough to keep him physically fit for the challenging event.
“I keep a couple of small fences out to practice a few low hunter hack jumps,” she says. “They don’t need to jump a lot. They get bored with it if they’ve had a lot of experience with it. Oscar appreciates jumping more when it’s less frequent.”
When she practiced with the jumps, she made sure to vary the course and the height of the jumps to keep him interested.
What About Me?
A common all-around problem: Your horse doesn’t need jumping practice, but you do.
“Ask around and find other people who’ll let you jump their horses,” Chris suggests. “Take jumping lessons at a hunter barn. You need to keep your eye good, so you can find your spots and distances. Your seasoned horse just needs to jump a few times a week to stay in good shape, so it’s nice to have other horses to practice on. It’ll keep your horse much happier.”
She suggests another drill you can do at home to help your riding. “I put poles on the ground and trot and lope over them, so I can find the spots to get over them without breaking stride. This helps me train my eye without jumping every day.”
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Need a bit of incentive to try a new all-around training method? Watch this video of Becky King and Vision Of Art, winners of the 2012 AQHA World Championship All-Around Amateur.