Wednesday, January 14, 2015

What Do Wednesday: Vacations

I know what you're thinking. 

Beaches, skiis or other vacationing destinations in winter. But I'm not talking human vacations. Vacations of the equine variety.

Horses be like
I stumbled upon THIS article on FB while trying to distract my brain from not being able to ride and found it interesting and thought provoking and definitely worthy of picking my blogging friends brains.

If you don't feel like or can't for some reason or another (mobile app is weird sometimes) I shall sum it up for you...

Written by the all knowing and godlike, Denny Emerson, this article touches on his life in the earlier years and how its drastically changed for the worse (surprise surprise). Post WWII, apparently EVERYONE gave their horses the winter off because no one could afford to build indoors or travel south. In general, horses got about 2 months off, completely, a year. Northern riders gave their horses the worst parts of winter off. The Southerners would give their horses the worst part of summer off. Denny remarks on how nowadays, it seems most (especially top level horses) are shown 12 months a year, with no real big breaks, with southern migrations being a prominent factor. Obviously not the best thing for horses. He then highlights & generalizes 3 different types of riders and what they have to offer "vacation" wise for their horses and it brings up great points.

-->"There are enormous difference of opinion about what kinds of time off are most beneficial to equine athletes  Some advocate the old fashioned idea of "let him be a real horse..get muddy and dirty...pull his shoes and chuck him in a field for 2 months"
-->"Others advocate keeping horses in some form of constant work 12 months a year...if you were a human athlete in good shape would you go sit in a chair for months?"
--> There are other riders ..who advocate several mini-vacations a year. If a horse has been built up to a peak of fitness...the week following a race or show should be limited work to let the horse recover both physically and mentally, as a way of "recharging the batteries"

 I couldn't really tell if he was more for "mini" vacationing or larger breaks, but I know I formed an opinion based off my opinion and experiences in the sport.

As always, before I officially ask, I have to share my side of WDW.

I go with Option 3.

I've never competed at the peak level of any sport, so I have no real pull in any direction when it comes to a certain level of fitness and performance.

That being said, if I were at the top, I would still have the same opinion.

Even at the lower levels, horses/ riders are learning, schooling and drilling and at some point they need a rest. I know with OTTBs especially, their little brains can explode easily and little bits of downtime can be extremely beneficial in mitigating serious meltdowns. In addition, joint & muscle health is  serious concern at any level!

Even when I was showing pretty regularly (1-2 events a month and schooling shows every weekend) I would ALWAYS give my horse 2 FULL days off after a show, 1 easy day back and then school hard for 2.

I will say though I am NOT a fan of throwing horses out into a field to "just be a horse". I try my damndest in winter to continue some sort of "let down" work going (hacks, long and low flat sessions, trails) and same in winter when the temps soar. Like Denny's article said, you wouldn't take a human athlete and sit them down in a chair for 3 months and then bring them back. The yo-yo-ing of getting in peak form, letting down and coming back., I think is WORSE than staying in relatively good condition all year with "mini" breaks ( in the form of a few days off a week, or a week here and there off). Coming from someone who yo-yo's herself, I can tell you its not the greatest. I am either a fat turd or ripped.

While I wish and dream of GA or FL winters, I know its saving me oodles of cash in travel expenses and boarding costs. I could go on about this topic nd the direction that the sport of eventing is heading, but ya'll would get bored with all the words.

So dear readers, What Do? Specifically, you and your horses, or your general opinions on the 3 different general situations. Do you throw them in a field to chill? Do you try your best to battle mother nature and get some work done? Do you migrate?

Tell me your secrets!


  1. Now that I have access to an indoor arena, I'm keeping Gina pretty fit over the winter. I've backed off a little since December, because our show season won't resume until April, so she is working 3-4 times/week. It's mostly 45 mins or so of dressage, except for one day of jumping. Moe does nothing but get ridden by me maybe once a week and ridden by his lesson children about twice a week. But he's old and retired from eventing, so I figure he's doing okay!

  2. I have no indoor and the ground is frozen and hard and I don't want to break my pony's legs, so we do what we can when the conditions are semi-ok. I actually keep him in pretty 'full' work during the winter if there's good snow cover, but so far this winter has been a wash since the end of December due to the footing conditions. I'm in agreement that it's better to take several small breaks during the year and maintain fitness rather than let the horse go feral for 2 months and then bring them back. If I had an indoor, I'd be training all winter long. But not showing, because even indoor shows are freakin' miserable when it's cold.

  3. If my horses are competing they get 2 months off. The greener ones stay in work all winter but get sporadic 1-2 week breaks dependant on weather.

  4. I'm option 3, with lighter work throughout the winter.

  5. I agree with you 100%. I am a fan of little mini breaks - a week (maybe 2), here or there. Days off after shows. Usually winter forces a week off - or 2 months off like last winter ha. I'd rather not give one big long vacation. Too much fitness is lost. Plus, I like to ride so ....

  6. I'm an advocate of both horses getting vacations (small, big, whatever suits the beast!), as well as letting horses be horses - which, for me, is a year-long, 24/7 endeavour.

    I would like to add that there is a very big difference between giving a horse a few months off when they are stabled and turned out in smaller paddocks, and giving a horse a few months off when they are turned out 24/7 in a large pasture, in a herd environment. My coach/breeder gives all of his horses the winter off (a combination of beliefs and facilities/weather), and those that live outside lose very little fitness over the winter. It is extremely easy to "fit" them up come spring, and we roll right into show season with happy, healthy, refreshed ponies. :)

  7. this is my first year having a horse whose condition is my responsibility... and i'm gonna agree with option 3 too. i'm trying to keep the horse in regular-ish work this winter, and generally give a couple days (up to a week, depending) off after a big event. but our level of competition isn't exactly stratospheric enough to warrant a serious vacay

  8. With my having to go between school and home for vacations, my horse ends up getting small vacations (a few days to 3 weeks) throughout the year. I find that when I come back from these short vacations, my mare is ready to go and mentally rejuvenated. However, anything longer than about a month destroys her fitness. So I'm a fan of the several short vacations method!

  9. Ditto- I'm a fan of smallish breaks. My horse's breaks pretty much follow my school breaks because I feel like if I'm burned out/bored enough with "work" to want a break, he deserves one too. That said, he's always better after some time off, so I try not to do too terribly much in the winter but still improve our riding.

  10. I'm with option one. I ride endurance. Total three months off in a herd being a horse over summer. This is forced upon us to some extent by the weather )regularly over 100 degrees here) but having done it a few time snow I have become a big fan. They come back ready to rock and roll and have held their fitness to an amazing extent (which means I spend their holiday working on my own fitness so I can keep up come March!)

  11. I like option three best too. I keep my horse out 24/7 year round, so that doesn't change for me. He's never stalled (I don't have one yet) and he's never alone (has his donkey and goats), so he always gets to "be a horse". As for exercise he does typically get time off in the summer (when it's over 100 degrees) and in the winter (when it's below freezing, rainy, frozen, icy, etc.) because I'm totally a wimpy fair weather rider lol. I'm really trying hard to ride more this winter though. He needs a baseline fitness and he needs to keep it up year round for his stifles, so I don't really have a choice. I do try to ride every other day when the weather is nice. I'll sometimes ride two or three days in a row, but normally he gets every other day off (kind of like with weight lifting). I don't want him to get sore since he's so out of shape and building up those stifles. I tend to err on the side of caution too much because I'm afraid of injuring him. Oh and we don't compete in anything and he's green and has never been really fit before if that makes any difference at all. I'm just slowly building up his baseline (lots of walking, was starting to add a lot of trotting before this stupid freeze moved in) to give his bones and tendons time to strengthen. It's not all about muscular and cardiovascular fitness. For a horse like him who has been a pasture puff his whole life he needs to slowly build up his fitness. I could probably safely push him a LOT harder than I do, but like I said I'm overly cautious. :)

  12. Unless there is a major injury or health issue, long vacations do nothing but drive OTTBs cray-cray. They have been developed and bred to work. After a race trainers I have worked for give them anywhere from two days to a week or two "off" in which they still get walked by hand for a half hour minimum. After a breeze (Basically a workout where they run as fast as they can for a set distance) they get at least one day. Personally I am a fan of little breaks, so they never forget "How to be a horse" but I also think each animal is individual though. Some horses coming off the track are bleeders and they really do need a good six months to heal because a little excitement or stress could trigger the problem. I think anytime a horse has worked hard though he needs a few relaxing days.

  13. Well, California winters are super brutal, as we all know, so I've always kept my lease horses in work during the winter. (I actually fucking LOVE winter because without shows right on the horizon I really get down to work, but that's beside the point.) Anyway, what I like to do is a version of number 3. I give lots of mini-breaks (two days or more) before and especially after events. I do this thing we call "taper" which I learned from my time on swim team -- you ease up a little bit on the intensity of the work before a big event, though keeping cardio fitness up, and then really ease up afterwards. This mostly means hacks on country roads since I don't have hills/acreage.

    I'm sure for horses that live 24/7 in stalls, some real let down time in a pasture is amazing though!

  14. I like to think that my horse gets to be a horse most of the year anyway since she has a 24/7 in and out that's a pretty good size.

  15. Between real life and personal vacations, Miles usually gets a few weeks off a year, plus rest days and such each week and around shows. I think if I gave him two months off he'd be bored to tears.