Building Muscle

Today’s Tip: Horses are just like human athletes. They need to take time to build muscle, especially when they’re out of shape. Read on to see how we did some exercises, but remembering not to stress the muscles.

Today was another day to haul Classy out to RideAbility to get some decent arena time. Though the temps are still a little cooler than they were (which is probably more normal), it was another gorgeous day. In fact, I think we’ve had so many good days that we’re starting to need rain! Yes…I know I complain about mud every day, but that’s the way life goes I guess!

Looking at Classy standing in the paddock the last few days, I’ve noticed that he could really use some muscle toning. There’s nothing better looking that a horse with well-defined muscles on their back end. Yes, I’m saying I like nice horse butts! Though that’s a long ways off, I could at least hope for a stronger topline to hold up his sagging belly and some bulk on his neck. These things don’t come overnight, though.

I knew that last week’s ride got Classy quite sweaty, that he did start to seem tired by the end, and that my muscles were sore for a few days afterward (which leads me to believe his probably were too!). That meant that I wanted to do things that were likely to build up those muscles without doing so much that he’ll be sore for the rest of the week.

One thing we did, both to work on neck muscles and the never-ending goal of a perfect on-the-bit connection, was to work on headset and connection with the bit. I’m still slightly shocked that he’s been doing so well each ride we’ve had, and today continued to go well. We even seemed to improve a little by being able to maintain it more through transitions. I read an excellent blog post the other day on the difference between jaw flexing and actually being on the bit. If you’ve studied dressage at all, you’ve likely heard this concept, but this post was just really well written. I can’t find it at the moment, but I’ll look again and try and pass it on tomorrow. One thing to watch for when you’re working on head set this early on in the year (or with a young horse) is that it takes muscle, so therefore the muscles can get tired. Make sure to give your horse frequent rest and stretching time.

Another thing that was helping all of his leg muscles was the arena footing. This week were able to ride in the outdoor arena. I didn’t remember how deep it was until I was hand walking him to cool him down at the end of the ride. I should give him extra treats just for having to trudge through that deep sand! Probably not the footing I’d normally recommend, but it will build muscle!

Finally, I did try to do some work strengthening the hindquarters. One exercise I played around with was a kind of rollback over ground poles. There were 3 ground poles set up across center line. We walked over the ground poles, got to the end of the arena and did a 180* turn on the haunches, went over the poles again, another 180, and so on for several tries. A benefit to ground poles is that, unless you force your horse’s head up high, it makes the horse round their back to go over them. It’s also a good warm-up exercise, even on a lunge line.

All in all, a great ride. When I got home, I even got to attack Pretty’s mane again as I had planned. I even took the clippers to her and got her bridle path clipped and trimmed her face. I don’t normally do faces except for shows, but her jaw hair gets SOOOO long that she looked like the bearded lady from the circus. I didn’t clip it close to the skin like for a show, but did clip it enough so you could actually see her jaw line!

Knotty Mane

This is what Pretty's mane looked like before I attempted to clean it up. And this is after I spent a little time on it!

Pretty Cleaned Up

This is after we played beauty parlor. You can see the mane is still a little "out of shape" where it was tangled, but it will relax soon.

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