When we think of “back to school season”, we think of children carrying lunch boxes and backpacks. However, we forget that our horses have a back to school season as well. Young horses getting prepped for their first ride, a competition horse prepping for show season, or getting a seasoned trail horse back in condition for fall trail riding after the summer off. All these situations are the equine version of going back to school in some form or fashion. There are several things we should keep in mind to help support them physical and mentally during this process to ensure they are successful.
Make sure your horse can physically do what you are asking it to do
Age, injuries, and conformation all play a huge role in the types and level of activities your horse might comfortably participate in. While we might have a huge desire to do barrel racing, endurance rides, or simply go on a relaxing trail ride, knowing your horse’s physical limitations is extremely important in helping them be successful at whatever your goals are.
I just have to cringe when I see people struggle and jump through hoops, spending exorbitant amounts of time and money, trying to force their expectations on a horse that just isn’t physically capable of doing what they are asking. They think that just because THEY want to do high level dressage or show jumping, with enough training time, physical therapy (or even surgery!), special corrective shoes & equipment, their horse will eventually be able to do it. Sometimes the answer is simply to adjust our expectations. Perhaps the horse can participate in that discipline, but at a lower level. Or, for those determined to participate at a level or discipline unsuitable for their current equine partner, looking to get a more suitable partner for the job may be the best course of action.
Don’t get me wrong, there are situations where some conditioning, physical therapy and the willingness to put in the time and effort can be what’s needed to get your horse to where you want them in a particular discipline. Horses recover from injuries all the time and go on to do great things. And horses can have great fun learning a new discipline. It breaks up the monotony of doing the same thing all the time. Dressage horses can absolutely LOVE team sorting. Pleasure horses can gain great physical benefit from learning dressage. But we must realize the physical limitations present in each horse, and make adjustments accordingly, to ensure they can be successful in that particular pursuit.
Support the immune & digestion for extra work, travel, etc.
Learning new skills, training/conditioning for competition, or just getting back into shape after long periods of inactivity or injury, causes stress on the body and can lower the body’s inner defenses. Add into the mix sending your horse off to a trainer or competing at events with the added stress of travel, change in environment/herd dynamics and exposure to other animals…your horse is at increased risk of developing health challenges.
- Take extra precautions with cleaning tack, feed/water buckets, etc. to help reduce your horse’s risk of exposure to communicable disease.
- Try to limit your horse’s exposure coming into direct contact with other animals whom you may not know the medical/vaccination history. Some horses can be “carriers” of diseases like Strangles without ever showing signs of the disease itself.
- The digestive system comprises 70% of immune system. Travel, physical stress and changes in routine can have a huge impact on your horse’s digestive system and lower their resistance. Ensure your horse is getting adequate nutrients appropriate for it’s level of activity/training, as well as proper hydration.
- Consider adding extra supplementation to help support your horse’s immune and digestive system, as well as joint/soft-tissue health.
Support mental/emotional health
Make sure your horse has the disposition for the job at hand. Some personalities do better in certain disciplines than others. How many times have we heard of horses breaking under the pressure of training, developing displaced behaviors and serious behavioral issues? Just because a horse may be physically capable of doing a specific job/discipline, doesn’t mean they are emotionally capable. Understanding your horse’s unique personality and how that relates to specific activities/disciplines and training strategies is a HUGE benefit. Recognizing how these things correlate can at the very least improve your relationship with your horse, and at it’s best help your horse reach it’s full potential.
This is a great article by Linda Parelli on this exact topic –
Try aomatherapy to help enhance your training sessions with your horse. Essential oils have been used to promote/enhance emotional states for many thousands of years. It’s only been fairly recently however that scientists have really started looking into how essential oils interact with the brain and effect moods/emotions. For a readers digest version of how essential oils can effect your horse’s emotional state check out this article – http://www.heavenlygaitsequinemassage.com/how-essential-oils-affect-your-horses-moods-and-emotions/
Horses can derive great benefit from including essential oils into training sessions. When you understand the motivations behind your horse’s behaviors, you can then find appropriate essential oils to promote the positive attributes and lessen the more extreme attributes of your horse’s personality based on what your goals are for that individual session. For example, perhaps you have a very disinterested horse that doesn’t really care to move very much. They just kind of poke along at whatever you are asking of it. Perhaps your goal for the session that day is to get your cantering better. So in order to achieve that goal, you need more respect, energy and exuberance from your horse. Offering a blend such as En-R-Gee, Motivation or Awaken might help promote the “energy/exuberance” goal and Surrender or Humility might help enhance the “respect” goal.
Choose a goal for your session. Determine what your horse needs during your session (i.e. focus, energy, respect, calm) and choose several oils to help enhance those goals (no more than 3 or 4). Offer to your horse for inhalation before you start your session.
- Calming/Relaxing Oils – Lavender (nervous tension), Peace & Calming (adrenaline/over-reactive/irritable), Stress Away (repressed emotions/displaced behaviors), Valor (fear/unconfident)
- Focus/Concentration Oils – Brain Power, Clarity, Lemon, Peppermint
- Energy Oils – En-R-Gee, Joy, Motivation, Inner Child
Here are some examples of essential oil combinations to try based on your horse’s innate personality type:
- “Dennis The Menace”, playful, extroverted horses – Present Time, Peace & Calming, Grounding, Surrender, Humility, Stress Away, Lavender, Harmony
- “Lazy”, disinterested horses – En-R-Gee, Surrender, Humility, Motivation, Awaken, Inner Child, Highest Potential, Stress Away, Harmony
- “Scaredy Cats”, afraid of their own shadow – Valor, Grounding, Transformation, Present Time, White Angelica, Peace & Calming, Grounding, Lavender, Harmony
- “Wall Flowers”, go away to their “happy place” when pressured – White Angelica, Sacred Mountain, Inner Child, Joy, Highest Potential, Awaken, Geranium, Stress Away, Harmony
Join me for my next Essential Oils & Horsenality class where we cover these strategies more in depth – https://www.facebook.com/HeavenlyGaitsEquineMassage/events
By recognizing our horses as individuals with innate strengths/weaknesses on the physical and emotional level, we help maximize our horse’s potential to be the best they can be. Treat them as “learners” and “athletes”, just as a child learning a new task and an athlete training for a competition. They come to learn that when we ask them to try new things it will be a positive experience for them. When we bring trust and understanding to our relationship with our horses, we build a stronger bond with them. From an holistic standpoint of natural horse care, we should strive to feed the brain, body and spirit of our horses at all times. But this is never more important then when they are in “back to school” mode.
The information in this article is not meant to diagnose, treat or cure any condition or illness. Nor is it meant replace proper veterinary care. It is meant for educational purposes only. Always consult your chosen veterinary professional before starting your horse or other animal on any therapy.
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, using essential oils for animals 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”.
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