Since the end of August last year, Hamish’s training had taken a bit of a back seat and if I am totally honest, I just wasn’t sure what to do with him anymore. After his poorly spell, I brought him back into work slowly, but quickly started to realise he couldn’t cope with doing as much as we were before.
I’m one of these people that likes a plan or a goal to work towards. Not being able to compete in our online dressage classes and feeling a bit lost on whether our exercise plan was really right for him anymore, meant we spent the last couple of months just muddling through, ticking him over.
I’ve found that, for me, it’s really important to have goals but also to be happy in allowing them to be adapted and changed when its necessary.
But it was time for a change. With Hamish having a visit from the chiropractor after Christmas it seemed the perfect opportunity to get some advice from the lovely Elli. Elli gave us some great tips on some simple (and not too strenuous) groundwork exercises we could do, to build some shoulder muscle and encourage bend through the body. I also went ahead and booked a long-awaited lesson with my friend Katie, who carefully helped me to come up with a new schooling plan, with the right exercises to help Hamish.
It’s incredible how some simple changes can make such a big difference. I’m so much more motivated and confident in the plan I have in place. For me, speaking to the professionals around me, and asking for help and advice was the most beneficial step I took. I’m the first to admit I really don’t know it all and without them, I wouldn’t have been able to come up with a fitness plan so well suited to Hamish and his needs.
If you’re interested, here’s our new fitness plan, including the regularity of the exercises, time they take and what we do.
Goals to Work Towards
- Stop him tripping, stumbling or dropping a shoulder due to weakness from his shoulders.
- Help to keep him supple in his hind quarters
- Regain some fitness to enable us to enjoy more hacking through the Park
Ground Work – Poles – 2 to 3 times a week for 15 minutes at a time
Purpose: To help increase shoulder muscle and encourage bend, in a less strenuous way. Also helps to build a bond with your horse and is a bit of ‘brain food’ for Hamish.
We have a few exercises to do with poles on the ground, which Hamish thoroughly enjoys and it’s nice to have a bit of time together too. We have 4 poles at trot pole distance apart (four of my feet). We walk over them initially, which helps to pick his feet up and use his shoulder and hind muscles.
We also loop in between the poles, walking in-between one, stopping, and turning around into the next gap etc. This helps to encourage bend through their body.
We have a line of poles, we walk along one side of them, and then ask him to step over them with the leg nearest the pole first; it’s similar to a leg yield, I guess.
Schooling – 2 times a week, 30 minutes at a time.
Purpose: To help build shoulder muscle and strength to prevent his tripping and to build hind muscle and encourage movement through his hind quarters, with a view to this assisting in our hacking and allowing us to have a stumble free hack!
In order to stop the tripping, Hamish is learning to do a more collected walk, which encourages him to be able to pick up his front legs better. To help his balance with the collected walk, as it is harder for him, he has a slightly higher head carriage. It’s really the total opposite of the long and low approach from before, but its much more suited to his needs.
We don’t do this for too long and allow him to stretch out in between, for a little break. When he is on a longer rein and stretching off, it’s still important for me to encourage him to pick up his feet.
Lateral work to allow him to stretch his hind legs, build hind quarter strength and encourage stretches through his whole body.
When it is light and he feels strong and regular in his paces, then this is when I’m able to add in more trot and canter work. If he isn’t feeling so great, or we’re riding in the dark, we’ll use this time to work on the slower walk work exercises.
Hacking – 1 to 2 times a week, simple hacking to start to include gentle hill work and to increase the length and difficulty over time.
Purpose: Gentle and simple exercise in straight lines, build strength, stretch legs and a bit of fun for Hamish too.
At the moment, we are going to do short and simple hacks, with only moderate hill work. In order to get him stronger and less likely to trip, the schooling work is important first, so we aren’t hacking as much as before.
We will slowly start to increase the length and difficulty of our rides as his strength increases, with the aim to be able to confidently go on a 30 – 45 minute hack without stumbling or tripping.