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My last competition for the season was Brigadoon where Den and I did our best dressage test yet. If you have been following our journey returning to riding post pregnancy and baby, then you will know we both have struggled with canter. This test was the highlight of our season, we got both correct leads and circled the 20 meters in a nice calm balanced manner. Our transitions down still need some work… but woooo hoooooooooo!

I now have post season blues. I get to my weekends and I am missing the high I was getting from working towards a goal and getting to test out our training with a weekend out. I am also not as driven to ride and train with no ‘goal’ close motivating me for rides when I am tired juggling a toddler.

I also have finally mastered my dressage phase of eventing and all I want to do is get back out there and have fun.

Don’t get me wrong, I am tired so the break comes with slight relief, but I have found myself wondering what to do with myself and I felt that in likelihood others could be feeling the same.

So what do you do in the off season with your horse?

Spell and have a break. Some horses and riders do certainly need a break and there are some great benefits from rest. However with a break comes a need to slowly build up fitness again in the pre-season and this takes around 6-8 weeks of incremental work. As riders we lose core fitness and balance just as quick as our horses, so don’t forget this either when it comes to preparing to ride again after time off. If spelling is something you regularly do, invest in one of Equestricares Fitness E-books here and make sure you are safely returning to work without damaging muscles.

Denny is a Clydesdale brumby so athleticism is not his strength, in fact we have to work harder and smarter to ensure we are both fit for low level eventing. I have been asked a few times why I put so much effort into this type of horse when he isn’t built for this sport? My answer is temperament.

I could certainly put the same effort or less in with a more athletic horse and do better through the grades, or get a better dressage score or faster cross country time. However I am a mum competing for fun and therefore my choice of horse is one that I feel safe on and that is Denny.

It takes me closer to 4 months to get Denny’s fitness comparable to that of a thoroughbred at about 8 weeks. So I am not spelling this year because I also can’t risk the weight gain on his joints as he is an extremely good doer. Instead I am mixing up his routine so it feels like a refreshing change for both of us. I have scaled his arena flatwork down to twice a week with slightly shorter rides, and all our other rides are nice long walks out on the trail.

Walking is highly underrated for fitness. It has the least impact on a horse’s body, yet still works all their muscles. We can practice our halts on the trail and even laterals and bend! Over the Christmas and New Year break we will both have a week off and I’ll make this time about massage and grooming and then have two light weeks off just walking after this week and into the next season we will go.

The rule with time off is that however long a horse has off, it takes double that to build back their fitness. So Denny’s week will take about 2-3 weeks to incrementally build back. So if you finish your last competition for the season in November and don’t start back until February and your horse has had about 8 weeks off, remember this is around 16 weeks to fairly build work load back up to where you left off. I’m not saying don’t give your horse time off as often it’s well-deserved and the mental break is valuable. However it’s important as owners that we understand how to safely return to work and avoid strain, overuse and injuries.

Jem & Den