Wherever I travel, I am asked questions about training the show jumper. It is very encouraging that so many riders are interested in furthering their education, and it is my hope that this series of training blogs will help everyone do just that.
Each week, I shall discuss a different aspect of training, referencing some of the most important points from my training books, but before I start specifically into training, let's talk about the welfare of your horse.
No two horses are the same, so take the time to really know the characteristics of your horse and to "listen" to what he is telling you. No matter how small a problem may seem, if in doubt, always ask for professional advice. It is too easy to think "this is a very important qualifier and there's only a hint of swelling so he will be OK". By recognizing and taking action at an early stage, no matter how minor the change may be, you might be preventing long term problems or a setback in your horse's training.
All veterinary care is paramount - your horse is not going to perform his best if he is not feeling great, so ask yourself how recently you have considered the following aspects of your horse's health:
1. Musculature – Take note of your horse's resistances and difficulties and consult a good equine massage therapist or physiotherapist. They will be able to tell you where your horse's stiffnesses and weaknesses are, so that you can create a programme to strengthen your horse's weaknesses and minimize his deficiencies.
2. Teeth - The horse needs to be comfortable in the mouth in order to accept the bit and to work in a soft and compliant manner. Be sure to have your horse's teeth looked at by a qualified professional, at least twice a year.
3. Feet - Your horse's feet need to be maintained on a regular basis (every four to five weeks) to work within your show calendar. By knowing your horse, you will know how he reacts to being shod and you can plan his work schedule accordingly. Remember, all the weight of the horse is taken onto his front feet upon landing and feet in poor condition will not be able to withstand this impact long term.
4. Feed - Always feed your horse according to the work he is doing and feed the best quality feed and forage you can. Be sure to maintain the regularity and structure of his diet and always adapt the feed according to his work load, as well as what his energy level is telling you.
5. Worming and Vaccinations - some horses feel a little off colour after worming, so give your horse time to come back to his normal self after he has been wormed - and do not worm him just before a show. Horses often need time to recover following vaccinations. Be sure to give your horse a little break of a few days, following his shots.