Friday, 24 July 2015

Managing the Barefoot Performance Horse - Exercise

The biggest barefoot myths I heard about before taking Buddy’s shoes off were all focused around exercise and what my horse wouldn’t possibly be able to do without shoes. I’ve listed my top 5 below..

  1. You won’t be able to exercise on the road without wearing the feet to bleeding stumps
  2. You will fall over on grass
  3. You will need to use boots
  4. You won’t be able to jump on grass
  5. You won’t be able to compete
I can laugh at these now as I have proved the opposite is true but these opinions are still out there and are very strong. It seems that people think barefoot performance horses are a freak of nature and I’ve had several people tell me how lucky I am to have a horse with such great feet that can ‘cope’ with being bare – if only they knew where we started!!

I have always believed in giving my horses a really varied exercise regime and being barefoot hasn’t changed this at all. You follow the blog and so you have seen that Buddy hacks, jumps, gallops, schools and competes regularly.

Hacking is a really integral part of my week and I go everywhere and anywhere, I often take Buddy to new places as I think it’s incredibly  important for him to be exposed to lots of different things in a non-pressurised environment so that when we are competing new things are not such a big deal.  It is also great for my mental wellbeing and our relationship as a pair. I do make Buddy ‘work’ on our hacks though… Making sure he is loose through his back and working into the contact so that everything we do builds on the more focused work we do in the arena. It is also important for our fitness work and I have a few great hills that I can use to help build up our stamina.

I do far more hacking in the summer as I have longer evenings but I still don’t do as much as I would like to. On an average week we do about 10-15 miles, I will always hack on a weekend if I’m not competing and so can do up to 20 miles during these weeks. My hacking is varied and we do plenty of roadwork as well as some more challenging terrain.

I also try not to spend too much time in my arena although this is harder when I’m working late or during the winter and so I try and keep my sessions varied if I have to spend more than one or two sessions in there during the week. During the event season I do far less groundwork but use this a lot during the winter and often drag the poles out to add another level of difficulty. I do 90% of my show jumping training in the arena purely to save the strain on his legs and do a lot of work on technique for the pair of us so keep the fences small and the mileage lower. I don’t worry about practising SJ on grass too much as we do a fair bit of XC schooling on grass and I rarely jump single fences so Buddy gets to practise riding a course, they just can’t be knocked down!
I don’t really have an average week as my plans will always be around what competition is coming up and how Buddy’s feet look. As an example we spent a couple of weeks in early July mainly road hacking as his feet needed it whereas in June we spent far more time in the arena  or on grass practising for competitions. I will do at least one mainly road hack and one schooling / dressage lesson each week but am pretty fluid other than that.

I have found that Buddy’s feet get better with a variety of exercise and the harder he works the better his feet look and function. I have slowly built up conditioning his feet  and so he can cope with everything I ask him to do and that is the key – your horse will go foot sore if you ask him to do too much too fast. In my experience you can get away with a less than perfect diet if your horse is working harder and this is something I have seen again recently when Buddy had 8 days off when he whacked his splint, his feet are definitely more sensitive than they were but I see an improvement after every ride.

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