Getting Fit

I’ve started riding this large Shire cross a couple of times a week and it’s made me think about fitness and getting different types of horses fit.

I ride him for an hour and tend to start with fifteen minutes in the school of trot and canter, before embarking on a hack which in this weather is fairly steady. 

However, after each ride he is dripping in sweat and breathing fairly heavily, despite the fact that the last fifteen minutes of the ride are a steady walk. Today we got back and I dismounted to untack and his head sank to the floor, so his chin was resting on the ground. I laughed at him, sure that he wasn’t that exhausted, and felt it would’ve been easier to untack him if I’d sat on the floor.

Anyway, it’s the first time I’ve ridden a really cold blooded horse, and the way they are built means they need their fitness built up differently. 

I tried to remember my GCSE P.E. lessons and the body types there are. An ectomorph is a tall, thin person with lots of fast twitch fibres, which makes them good at sprinting and other fast exercise. The thoroughbreds are the ectomorphs of the horse world. A mesomorph is a person who can put on muscle very easily, so the weight lifters of the world. I’m not a hundred percent sure which breed of horse fits this – any suggestions welcome!

Finally, you have the endomorph, which I remembered as the dumpy physique (the letter d is in both words). Endomorphs have lots of slow twitch fibres which makes them good at stamina related exercise.

I think that draught horses, or cold bloods, are the equine equivalent of the endomorph. After all, they evolved with the primary job of being able to pull heavy objects, such as ploughs, for long periods, but at a steady pace. This means that they have a large proportion of slow twitch fibres, and subsequently are quite hard to get fit. Also, even when fit they will still have quite a round physique, unlike the streamlined fit racehorse.

Most riding horses will have more fast twitch than slow twitch fibres, so progressively increasing the duration of work in mixed gaits will rapidly get them fitter. Whereas this Shire cross that I’m riding needs lots of slow steady work to build his fitness up; so an hour of walking is more beneficial to him than half an hour of schooling or trot work, or a turn on the gallops.

Of course, the trot and canter needs to be included in his workouts, but with plenty of breaks and a very slow increase in duration so that his body doesn’t become overly tired and fatigued, otherwise he risks injuring himself.

I had noticed that this horse wasn’t quite as sweaty today as last week, so hopefully we’re on the right track and soon his workload can increase slightly. It is interesting to work with a horse so much bigger and heavier than most riding horses, and it made me think about allowances you need to make (soft ground may be fine for the 15hh thoroughbred to canter on, but a heavier horse will find it much more of a strain) with draught horses when developing an exercise program for them.

  

Conformation – Part 2

preference-head-sm

The head should be intelligent, alert, and display a good temperament. It should be in proportion to the rest of the body. I find a small head ungainly, and a large head makes the neck appear undermuscled and weak, particularly on a long neck. The eyes should be large, kind, and set well apart, giving them a wide vision. The ears should be mobile, curving to a point. The ears display the horse`s temperament by being pricked forward when he is looking at something and engaged, and lying flat back when he is irritable.
The mouth should have enough room for a bit, and the tongue should not be too fleshy – but this depends on the breed. The jaw should be mobile, and the horse neither have an overbite or an underbite as this affects their grazing ability. The lips should be soft, and the nostrils large so that ample air can be taken into the lungs. This is important for an eventer when galloping across country, or a Thoroughbred racing.
The jaw and poll should have enough room for flexion, so that the oesophagus isn`t restricted when the horse is working to a contact, particularly in dressage.
I am a sucker for the dished face of Arabs, finding the Roman nose too heavy for many horses. Except the Shire. I also like a kind eye, feeling that I can engage with the horse and “see” their personality.

Going along to the neck; the horse should have a good topline, but this can be disguised with excess fat. The neck should be long and elegant, but it also serves the purpose of helping the horse balance. The neck should flow onto a sloping shoulder; if it is set on too high, the horse has a “swan neck” which is worsened by an overdevelopment of the under muscles in the neck, further problems caused by this are short shuffly strides, and a tense jaw. But that`s another story. If the neck is set on too low it gives the appearance of the horse being on the forehand, you feel like you`re sat “at the top of a slide”, and the withers always look prominent with this type of neck, and it`s difficult to build up a correct top line.
If the neck is too long it will be weaker, and put the horse on the forehand; whilst a short neck shortens the strides.
Weak necks are my bug bear; I feel they are so unsightly! But there is nothing worse than an overly cresty stallion!

Part 3 coming soon!