Musculoskeletal system of your horse and physical effort
Whatever the sport, many factors come into play when it comes to horse physical performance :
- Natural abilities. Certain breeds have a genetic predisposition to be stronger in some areas, potentially making them better adapted to do certain sports
- Well being also plays a major role in maximising performance. Pain will, of course, limit a horse’s ability to perform, but also worsen it’s mental well-being.
- Training is another factor affecting performance During training, your horse’s musculoskeletal system will be very important to monitor, especially before and after the session.
Warming up: getting your horse started
The main purpose of the warm-up will be to, quite literally, "warm up" your horse, i.e. to increase its body temperature. Now that your horse has been put to the work, its heart and breathing rate will increase. All these changes are intended to prepare the body for an increase in the production of energy during work.
On the musculoskeletal level, this will allow to progressively stress the muscles and joints of your horse before putting them under greater stress during the session:
- Warming up will allow the muscles, tendons and ligaments to be gradually stretched. This progressive stretching will avoid violent stretching during an effort and therefore the risk of breaking the fibres of these structures.
- Warming up will warm up the joints. The progressive mobilisation of the joints will allow an exchange between the synovial fluid and the cartilage and thus make the joint ready for intensive activity.
In horse riding, it is more about relaxation rather than warm up. In fact, in addition to preparing the horse physically for the effort, this moment also allows the horse and rider couple to prepare themselves psychologically for work by relaxing.
The duration of your relaxation will obviously depend on many factors:
- The age of the horse and its level of work
- The type of enclosure; a horse that lives in a meadow (in almost constant movement) will need less time to "warm up" its musculoskeletal system than a horse that lives in a stall and is less active.
- The season. Winter and the cold extend the time it takes to relax. The body is more tense in the cold and will take longer to relax.
- The type of relaxation. Relaxing your horse for a lungeing session will not be the same as relaxing for a competition.
- The musculoskeletal system of your horse. Some horses are stiffer than others at the beginning of the session, so the relaxation period should be adjusted accordingly. For example, for a horse prone to hock pain, working in a straight line will put less strain on these joints than in circles. For some horses it may also be useful to massage the back to start warming up before the session.
Recovery: return to peace and quiet
Depending on the type of exercise required of your horse, you will not go for the same type of recovery.
In the case of relatively low intensity or low speed work, such as a fairly classic work session, passive recovery will be sufficient.
You will only need to walk your horse at a slower pace to help its heart and breathing rhythm return to normal.
If your horse has been working harder or for a longer period of time, you will probably have to go through active recovery.
This involves keeping the horse moving at moderate pace (usually a short trot). The objective is to continue to work the horse's body but in a less intense way, to gradually lower the heart and respiratory rates. This recovery will also allow the elimination of toxins produced during the effort (mainly lactic acid).
It is important to do this recovery directly after the exercise, if you wait, even for a few minutes, it might be too late and the accumulated waste can lead to problems such as aches and pains.
Whatever recovery you have used, depending on your horse and its needs, you may need to give it more specific care.
For example, if you have worked on a deep enough ground you can shower your horse's legs and put some clay on it. If your horse tends to have stiff muscles, you can massage it with an arnica-based cream or gel such as Ekylaxyl.
You can also use feed supplements to help your horse recover. Certain plants can also promote good joint and muscle recovery after exercise and improve your horse's suppleness, such as White Willow and Boswellia serta, which are found in Ekyflex Nodolox.
Good warm up and recovery may prevent some muscular pathologies such as certain types of myositis (link site). For muscular protection, food supplements based on vitamin E and selenium promote muscular recovery, such as Myostem Protec.
To help your horse perform well, it is essential to properly manage its exertion both at home and in competition, not forgetting about warm up and recovery, which are essential for the maintenance of a good musculoskeletal system.
If you have any doubts about your musculoskeletal system, don't hesitate to ask your vet for advice. Audevard products are available at your vet's, ask him/her for advice to find the most suitable formula for your horse.