For the past few months, some of us have not been able to ride or work our horses as much as we normally do due to lockdown restrictions. Whilst it is a good opportunity for our horses to get some rest, it also means our horse’s riding fitness may have declined over time. Now that restrictions have eased and with competition season just around the corner, it is time to take our horses out of the paddock and get them back to work.
In this blog, we chat with Eve Bukina from Hooves & Heel Healing to get her tips on getting your horse fit and ready for competition season. Eve performs bodywork on horses to keep them sound and is a trained equine bowen therapist and concomitant practitioner.
With the trot work I find its good to mix up ridden work with lungeing or liberty work in the round yard. This incorporates variety and is a great bonding exercise.
Why should it take that long?
Your horse has plenty of energy and you are probably thinking surely it can get back to work straight away. Well, it can work of course but your horse is likely to be sore after the workout if its muscles aren’t ready. Confusing eagerness for fitness when the adrenalin is pumping is a recipe for disaster, which may end up in a vet visit, more time off, expensive bills. It may be tempting to start lungeing your horse on day 1 but it is best to take it easy with the fitness program with a gradual return to full work. Remember we risk causing micro muscle damage if we rush the process.
Even though the process of getting horses back into work is long, take your time and evaluate your horses progress and how it is feeling each step of the way and readjust if necessary. Good foundations always pay off in the long run and will reduce the risk of injury. Also remember that each horse has individual needs and you need to tailor your training program to suit your horse.
As an equine bodywork therapist, you would have worked with a variety of horses. What are the common injuries you see in the horses that your treat?
Most common injuries would be pulled, torn or stiff muscles especially around the back end (hamstrings, gluteal muscles), back in the lumbar-sacral area (behind the saddle) with that being the weakest part in the horse’s body and neck area. Saddle areas are prone to sores too due to saddles that don’t fit properly and uneven distribution of the rider’s weight. Injuries can come from riding, uneven weight distribution of horse and rider (i.e. being one sided), paddock slips and playing around and emotional issues such as holding in emotional pain in various muscles, for example tension from regular anxiety.
How important are stretching exercises for your horses?
It is important to incorporate regular stretches before and after riding. After all, if you did a structured exercise class, you would always start and finish with stretches. Horses are the same as humans, they have uneven muscle development and get stiff. Stretching improves muscle flexibility and range of motion, which help prevent and/or reduce injuries.
Can you give us examples of some useful stretches we should do with our horses?
Stretching the front legs forward and back and doing the same with the back legs. Stretching the neck to the sides and up and down with “the carrot stretches” as we call them. Raising the back by pushing on the belly. With stretches I would recommend to ask your body worker to show them if you are unsure as it is important not to stress the joints and over stretch and of course not to put yourself in danger whilst doing them.
How do you know if your horse is experiencing pain or soreness?
Horses, being prey animals, hide their pain pretty well. But there are signs we can watch out for like becoming grumpy, lazy, disinterested in work, getting naughty during a work out and bucking, kicking out, shying unnecessarily, refusing to do certain type of work by not engaging hind quarters or dropping shoulder when asked, feeling uneven and lacking forwardness. They may become sensitive to brushing, girthy when tacking up or touching in certain place, may clamp tail, tilt head unusually often etc. Swelling or heat is of course always a good indicator.
It is good to develop a solid relationship with your horse to know how it feels normally and that will make it a lot easier to detect when they are feeling off.
What should you do if you think your horses is experiencing pain or soreness?
I would suggest getting them seen by your preferred body worker or if the injury is serious call the vet. Giving them time off is of course beneficial, but that may not solve the problem in the long run.
How do you know if your horse requires bodywork?
Any display of experiencing pain or soreness, horse feeling emotionally off. I also recommend to simply keep up the maintenance every few months, which helps identify and prevent small aches and pains becoming big. In terms of how often, it depends on the age, workload and health history of the horse.
What is bowen therapy and concomitant healing?
Bowen Therapy is a dynamic bodywork technique that can be applied remedially or holistically. It is relatively gentle and can be very relaxing. It empowers the body’s own healing resources achieving balance and harmony, resulting in fast and lasting relief from pain and discomfort.
Concomitant healing deals with healing the physical body from physical problems, caused by overuse, accidents, sporting injuries etc. and the storage of emotional issues within the body. This form of healing that works to alleviate pain quickly with tremendous results for both animals and people. It requires the application of pressure to precise bodily points using the thumb, forefinger or index finger to release blocks and provide considerable relief from pain. Its effect is often instantaneous.
Feel free to contact Eve Bukina at www.hoovesandheels.com if you have any questions on bodywork.