3 Easy Steps To Improving Performance In Your Horse
How many times have you started a therapy or training exercise with your horse with a specific goal in mind of doing the exercises so many days per week for a certain period of time? Now, how many times have you actually followed through with that goal? You are not the only one! I'm just as guilty as the next person of starting something with my horse with high hopes of making great advances in my relationship with my horse, or helping my horse with a long-neglected bodywork issue and improving performance, and then never actually making the time to do the follow-through. Here are some tips to help you and your horse be successful in any endeavor you decide to take on.
3 Easy Steps To Improving Performance In Your Horse
- Identify The Problem – Determine what problem or issue is most holding you and your horse back at this moment in time. This could be anything from a behavioral issue to a bodywork issue. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. Often when a horse is consistently refusing one of your aides, it's not because it doesn't want to do what you ask, but simply because it cannot. Enlist the help of an equine massage therapist, bodywork professional or a trusted trainer to help you determine if the problem is mental or physical in nature.
- Determine A Course Of Action – Once you've identified what the source of your horse's issue(s) is, the next step is to determine how best to address it. Coming up with an appropriate therapy or exercise program for your horse that will fit both your schedule and your horse's level of fitness is crucial. If the steps you plan to take cannot be realistically implemented, you cannot hope to ever make progress and only achieve frustration in the end for both you and your horse. If you are only available 2 or 3 days a week for 30 minutes at a time, then make sure that the plan of action you've come up with will work into that schedule. If you horse has been sitting in the pasture for the last 6 months doing nothing but grazing and resting peacefully in the shade, make sure you start exercises slowly at first and gradually build on what your horse can physically offer you without getting hurt.
- Be Consistent And Follow Through With Your Plan! – In order for any equine bodywork therapy or exercise program to be effective for your horse, you must be consistent with your implementation of it. In order for your horse to overcome months or even years of moving inefficiently it must first overcome muscle memory. This takes repetition. Lots of it! The more ingrained the pattern, the more frequently and longer the new pattern must be performed in order for the body to recognize it and become natural. Just because you don't see the end results you want within the first few times, doesn't mean it's not working! Over time, if you are consistent, you will see improvement in your horse's performance. Don't give up!
As an equine massage therapist, I've encountered on many occasions situations where I only work on a horse once a month (sometimes even less). The horse would see improvement for a time following the bodywork session, but would eventually fall back into its old patterns of movement simply because of the ingrained muscle memory. In order for the body to overcome long-term muscle memory, the new pattern must be performed repeatedly over a period of time. The more long-term and severe the old pattern, the longer and more frequently the new pattern must be repeated and become the new norm for the horse. If for some reason more frequent bodywork sessions are not an option, the client must perform follow-up exercises in order to accomplish the same result.
To better help my clients find success with their therapy, several years ago I started to incorporate into my follow-up exercises games and exercises I had learned in the Parelli Natural Horsemanship program. I would gear their exercises to best suite their schedule, lifestyle and fitness level of the horse (and human). For horses on stall rest or that cannot be exercised I use passive stretches and games that require little or no effort on the part of the horse. I found that if I could give people ways to incorporate these things into their regular activities with their horses, they were more likely to follow through with them until my next visit. Nobody wants to drill boring exercises and stretches every day, but if you can make it fun and find a way to easily incorporate into their already busy schedules, their chances of success increase dramatically. See my series A Prescription For Parelli to learn more.
Setting realistic goals for you and your horse, as well as enlisting the help of qualified professionals when necessary, and consistently following through with whatever plan you decide to implement is key to the success of improving performance in your horse. Remember these simple steps and now go have fun with your horse!
Lisa Carter is a Certified Equine Massage Therapist (CEMT), with multiple certifications from several different equine bodywork schools. She incorporates her knowledge and experience with Parelli Natural Horsemanship, equine bodywork and as a veterinary technician to provide her clients with the resources they need to make informed decisions for their horses. She encourages and facilitates network building between equine health care professionals, working together to find the best combination of therapies to meet the needs of the "whole horse".
Are you ready to get better results with your horse? Put your equine health care team to work so you and your horse can be doing what you were meant to. Click here to get started!
Great points – and very interesting to see horses learn better with fun exercises, just like children 🙂
I am working wit my dressage mare a lot right now to help her back, she is really sore there. Equine massage really helps her attitude a lot!
It will be exciting to see how she responds, moving better.
Very timely article with good horse tips!
Thanks for sharing it!
I love the new layout of your website! I agree with Tracy – very interesting to see horses learn better with fun exercises. Thanks for sharing these great tips with us.