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The Near Side: Definitely Don't Stop Riding

By Leslie Potter | Monday, December 10, 2012

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Trail Ride
This is a view I've been enjoying quite a bit recently as I follow through with my plan to ride regularly through the winter. Photo: Leslie Potter
Despite the fact that I am originally from the frozen northlands of New England, I'm pretty wimpy when it comes to winter weather. If I had my way, I'd spend the winter under about twelve blankets with a hot chocolate delivery service making scheduled visits every morning. There are a variety of reasons why this arrangement won't work, namely that drinking cocoa doesn't pay the rent AND leads to a strange coupling of both obesity- and malnutrition-related health problems, so I have to buck up and face winter like the mature adult I should be.

My goal for the winter, as proclaimed to the world on the Free Rein page of the January Horse Illustrated (available now!) is to ride Snoopy at least three times a week. Obviously, that's not much of a challenge during those lovely spring, fall, and even summer months. Winter, however, is a struggle. There's no daylight before or after work, and, you know, it's cold out there, so my desire to ride is not exactly at an all-time high.

Part of the reason I am challenging myself to ride three times every week is because I want and need to improve as a rider. My fortnightly riding lessons are great, but not enough to keep me legged up. Although Snoopy doesn't jump, getting in some regular saddle time in between lessons reduces the backwards slide down the mountain of progress. And if I can push myself to practice riding in two-two point for extended periods, or even riding without stirrups, I'm getting some much-needed help with my leg strength.

The other major reason I'm committed to riding regularly is because Snoopy is in his mid-20s now. At this point, he's healthy and happy, generally, and I can still ride him. But if I go a long stretch without riding, he loses fitness faster than a younger horse would, takes longer to get it back, and is at higher risk of injury. As with humans, older horses do best with regular, low-stress exercise. They do not do well with periods of being a pasture potato with an occasional workout. That's a recipe for injury. As long as Snoopy is healthy enough to be ridden, the best option is to keep him in consistent, light work. Thus the ride-three-times-per-week mandate.

So far, so good. I'm three weeks into this challenge with a 100% success rate. But I was a little worried. His attitude is good, but he's definitely slowed down over the past year or two. What if my erratic riding schedule had already done its harm? So I did what you're supposed to do as a responsible horse owner, and I had the vet out to do a general wellness exam and make sure there were no underlying problems that could be exacerbated by working all winter.

I'll be honest. I was nervous. What if the vet came out, took one look at Snoopy, and told me I was irresponsible and cruel for making this poor old horse work, and every step I rode was one step closer to a painful demise? I don't know why my mind went straight to the worst-case scenario, but it did.

Thankfully, what I got instead was pretty much a best case scenario. The vet suspected that Snoopy might be pre-Cushing's, and statistically, a horse of Snoopy's advanced age and—ahem—robust body condition, that's probably true. He prescribed thyroid medication, which should help keep Snoopy's weight in control and reduce the risk of secondary problems, like laminitis. And as for whether it was OK for me to keep riding regularly?

"Definitely don't stop riding him."

You don't have to tell me twice, doc.

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Reader Comments

Jenni    Smithsburg, MD

12/14/2012 4:25:30 PM

I too have made this a goal this year. It's definitely a challenge. It's hard enough to get myself motivated to face the cold, but it's even harder that I don't have a ring or any lighting for riding after dark. If I don't get out of work in time, I can't ride. I've been riding bareback a lot more. It helps keep me warmer and is strengthening my legs even more! Cantering an OTTB on a windy day tends to force you into having a good seat and strong legs. LOL. So far the weather hasn't been too hateful. I hope I can keep up as the temps drop even lower.

Lita    Versailles, KY

12/10/2012 11:35:54 AM

Snoopy rocks!

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