When bringing a horse into training for any discipline, it is important to consider an individual plan aiming to get the best improvement in muscle strength, tone and flexibility while minimising the risk of injury. Anyone who has dealt with a range of horses within various disciplines, or even within one discipline alone will know that some horses seem so much more prone to injuries during training than others. Many times this can be due to the horses past work, for example ex-racers often come into their second career with variable degrees of ligament or joint damage due to the nature of their previous training. Starting with a fresh horse with a known history can be a major headstart, however every horse has his own physique and as such care in formulating a program accordingly can minimise the chance of injury.
Human professional athletes and their coaches have long considered their physique in optimising their training programs to get the best outcome from their training regimes and similar principles may be of great value in ensuring our horses perform their best. Three types of body type are widely recognised, the Ectomorph, the Mesomorph and the Endomorph. These three represent three distinct physiques, however in reality most individuals show elements of 2 or more.
The Ectomorph – The typical lanky thoroughbred type, light of bone, lightly or poorly muscled with weak connective tissue, they are long necked and small shouldered. They have small joints and relatively long legs in relation to their body size. They often carry low body fat, and are difficult to get good condition on, even with higher than average feed consumption. They are often also quite sensitive to temperature extremes and changes. Having poor natural muscle tone and weak connective tissue, this type is most prone to overtraining, and require the most care to build their strength gradually to allow them to perform without joint or ligament damage.
The Mesomorph – The athletic, well proportioned type with mature muscle, strong connective tissue and large bones. They tend to carry themselves well naturally, gain fitness and body condition readily. They are typically quite stoic and due to their inherent strength are more physically forgiving of errors in training than the ectomorphic type.
The Endomorph – Low natural muscle tone however, unlike the ectomorph, with work will gain muscle bulk readily. They have soft bodies and gain weight readily. They typically have smaller bone structure than the mesomorph, and due to their propensity to be ‘pudgy’ often resemble the typical “Thelwell” pony, with a big round body and little legs. This type are more resilient in training than the ectomorph, however require an awareness during training of the imbalance between body weight and the relatively small bone structure carrying this large body along.
Regardless of body type, basic principles of training are common to all. Following these guidelines you can help keep your horse fit and healthy while aiming for your ultimate performance goals.
- Avoid excessive fatigue. Soft tissue injuries are far more common when muscles are fatigued.
- Increased training should be matched with increased rest. It is during rest that significant increases in muscle strength and power are developed.
- Resistance training increases the ability of muscle to endure hard training. Combinations of poles or cavalettis and working in varied and deeper surfaces build a horses core muscles required for support during faster and more jarring activities.
- Introduce new work gradually. The more time the horse is given to build strength, the less likely he is to injure himself when being pushed during training or competition.
- Train on as many different surfaces as possible. Varied ground stimulates the proprioceptors in the joints and improves the horses ability to maintain good stability when moving quickly over uneven ground.
- Always incorporate a good warm up and cool down period to ensure maximum elasticity and power in the ligaments and muscles respectively during work, and preventing stiffness after work.
- Professional athletes make use of manual therapists to ensure their bodies are working at their best and small injuries are dealt with before they become large problems. Your horse benefits in the same way from an Osteopathic consultation allowing his joints, muscles and tendons to work most efficiently and thus minimising the strain and risk of injury during your training and competition.
- Do yourself the favour of considering your own balance and its effect on your horse. The daily impact of your imbalances can greatly affect your horses balance and work.
Following these guidelines will help both you and your horse work your best and pretty soon, you’ll start seeing the results in training and competition.