Spring has sprung, so now more then ever it is important to cool your horse down properly after you ride.
The warmer weather has arrived suddenly, and most of our horses have not properly lost their winter coats, nor adjusted to the hotter days. Now more then ever it is important to include an adequate cool down at the end of your ride, to avoid heat stress, injury, strain and sore muscles.
It doesn’t matter what kind of a rider you are, all rides should include a cool down in their workouts wether it’s a competition, trail ride or general ride.
A proper cool down benefits the horse by:
- allowing the horse to come back to a state of mental and physical relaxation
- relaxing and lengthening of the muscle fibres
- returning pulse rate, respiration rate and body temperature to normal
- improving blood circulation, which reduces the chance of inflammation
- removing lactic acid from the muscles
- allowing dilated blood vessels to slowly return to normal
Cool downs usually take around 15mins but might take less time if the horse hasn’t worked hard and it’s not hot, or longer if the horse has had a tough session such as XC or the temperature is warm or humid.
Cool down exercises can be mounted or unmounted. The aim of your cool down session when mounted will be to get the horse to relax and stretch so this is usually a time when you ask for a free walk, not an amble but a forward walk on a longer rein letting them stretch their necks and stretch out over their backs. For some, this might even be the 10min walk from the arena back to the tie ups. If the horse has had a more rigorous workout then your cool down may start with a long rein trot and progress to a walk. The idea is to keep walking until the heart rate has returned to normal and the horse is relaxed.
Unmounted cool down is allowing the horse’s respiration, pulse etc to return to normal. This may just be dismounting, loosening the girth and hand walking the horse.
If the horse has become sweaty during the workout it is important to physically cool it down through sponging or hosing, as sweating is the horses main response to the heat released from the conversion of mechanical energy when you ride. Not sweating on a tough ride or hot day can be an even bigger issue but that’s a topic for another day.
The best method for cooling a horse is to hose them and immediately scrape off the water then hose and scrape again, as just hosing them allows the water to heat up to the horses body temperature rather then using the water to cool the horse down. The evaporation of the water will also help cool the horse down, if you don’t scrape the water it will likely not evaporate quickly enough, or if it’s very humid it won’t evaporate so add alcohol to the water to help.
And don’t forget to offer them a drink afterwards to replace the water they’ve lost during sweat!
You may also want to really benefit your horse by giving them a little cool down massage. We have a link to a video demonstrating this here: https://youtu.be/pgvWD2ni9C0