What do I need to consider if I am a weekend warrior, and my horse is too?
Ah!! The human weekend warrior - part desk jockey, part adventurer. It’s all very TGIF and trail blazing, then someone gets hurt. Same can be true for your horse - crazy weekends can lead to increased chance of injuries. A weekend warrior horse that “chills out” during the week will have a much lower level of fitness for weekend work, and an increased chance of soreness, soft tissue damage, bruises, and long term issues with joints as he is not properly conditioned for trail blazing on the weekends. Pony rides for your kids a few times around the arena? Sure! Marathon riding session? No! Of course - the standard “consult with your Veterinarian” applies here - just so everyone can be on the same page and your Vet can advise you on your horse’s fitness level and appropriate exercise for him.
These weekend warrior goobers hang out all week, then go to work. Turn out and interaction keeps them busy, but the fitness level is still low.
So what do you need to do to take care of your weekend warrior? Some of this “to do” list is just paying attention, some of it requires some actual work - but not much!
- During the week, make sure he has plenty of turnout if possible. Remember that a horse that meanders around the paddocks may rack up four miles a day lolly gagging around, but this is not conditioning for carrying weight, trotting, cantering, over terrain, for four miles on the weekend. Turnout will help keep him loose, but it will likely not help with any conditioning work he needs.
Paddock living will help your horse stay loose!
- Notice what sort of footing he lives on during the week compared to when you are riding on the weekend. Sandy paddocks, or soft cushy grass pastures during the week can make hard packed trails or arenas uncomfortable on the weekends, and may lead to bruises on hoof soles. The opposite might apply also - harder turn out areas switching to deeper sand arenas - this puts tremendous strain on unfit tendons and ligaments. A daily leg inspection will help you catch brewing problems early.
A thorough leg inspection every day can alert you to injuries before you head out for weekend warrior-ing.
- Are his muscles sore? Flinching, moving stiffly, a cranky attitude, feeling “off” under saddle are all possible signs he’s muscle sore. Very similar to that feeling we get when we have overdone it at the gym or on a run. Listen to his body language and adjust your riding down until his fitness comes up. You may not notice muscle soreness until the next day, so always check before and after rides, and a day or two later as well. There is also a type of tying up, exertional rhabdomyolysis, which occurs when the unfit horse is pushed beyond his training. In extreme cases the kidneys can become damaged and death is possible. If you notice your horse is tying up,or urinating dark colored urine, call your Veterinarian. This indicates kidney issues and can be quite dangerous.
- How are his feet? The weekend warrior horse may become footsore during his ride, especially if he’s on different surfaces than what he’s used to. Checking for heat in his hooves, as well as digital pulses, is always a good idea. Follow up with your Vet, and perhaps a poultice, hoof packing, or some ice on his hooves is in order.
- Is he staying hydrated? Are you supplementing with electrolytes if he is sweating during your weekend excursions? Dehydration is not just being thirsty - it’s one of the back bones of horse health and fitness. Vital organs, including your horse’s brain, rely on proper hydration to function. You can learn more about how to check for dehydration here!
- Are you going the extra mile when you get back from your weekend rides? A little extra pampering goes a long way. And, you can check your horse’s TPR, legs, muscles, and hooves while you are at it. I always suggest icing joints and lower legs - the very nature of the weekend warrior horse puts added strain on critical leg structures - ice helps bring down inflammation and protect his legs. Massage your horse with a curry comb or your hands, checking for soreness along the way. Checking his TPR will alert you to overheating, pain, or general stress.
- Recognize that there is a difference between fitness and energy. I may have the energy to run a 10K race tomorrow, but because I can barely run 3 miles today makes me unfit for the task. Cooler or cold weather complicates things - horses are often frisky when the temps drop, which you may interpret as fitness. Work with your Veterinarian to determine appropriate exercise for your horse based on his body condition and his current fitness levels. Note - it’s a myth that you can measure a horse’s fitness by how much he sweats. Fitness can be measured by using heart rate - consult with your Veterinarian.
How do you care for your weekend warrior horse?