Cross-training - why and how?
Did you know there are many benefits; physical, mental and emotional that come from cross training? How? During exercise the multiple body systems interact with one another. This is useful for improving fitness but can also limit performance.
Cross training activates different muscles for different gaits and manoeuvres and this is good for your horse. It helps in building up muscles, maintain overall condition, assists with proprioception and concentration, and when performed regularly, makes training more fun for your horse and less like work!
Pole work can be done at all three gaits. They encourage the horse to lift its legs and bring the hindquarters under. Engagement of the hindquarters is important for efficient energy transfer during movement of your horse.
Tipp 1 - For variety make different pole arrangements. This encourages concentration. Change the layout regularly. Once your horse is accustomed to pole work, small cavalettis and lifting one end of the pole can be introduced.
Dressage movements such as leg yield, travers and renvers help engage the back and hindquarters. These exercises have benefits such as increasing muscle strength, assisting your horse to lift his back and improving elasticity.
Tipp 2 - Perform these at the walk during warm up, but only after the first ten minutes. Remember a good technique is important for the desired effect. Once a good technique is learnt, perform these at all gaits.
Trail Riding is great for cardio vascular health and improving fitness. Long rides with a healthy interspersion of trot and gallop. It is also good for your horse to move ‘naturally’, freely and forward. It is also refreshing for his mind and mood.
Tipp 3 - Ride on a long rein without collection. When galloping it is good if your horse can stretch out to use different muscles.
Long reining or double lunge are important skills to teach your horse. I recommend this for younger horses. Lunging can benefit older horses although I normally do not recommend this on horses under six years old. Lunging is best done in a lunge ring.
Tipp 4 - Combine long reining or the double lunge with pole work for great effect. On the long rein or lunge, horses should be in a good frame, long and low to encourage lift through the back to build up muscles.
Active gymnastic exercises can be performed on the ground or under saddle. Active gymnastics encourage flexion and extension of muscles and mobilisation of joints. These combine muscle contraction and stretching for overall muscle and joint function.
Tipp 5 - Incorporate active gymnastics exercises into your routine at least 3 times per week. A flexible horse can perform its exercises with balance and control. I suggest concentrating on an area each session; for example one day head and neck exercises, another concentrate on the back or hindlimbs.
Incorporate all aspects of cross training at least once a month for maximum benefits.
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