It is a common misconception that only horses at the top of their game in the competition world are athletes. The ones who are out competing each week, race horses, eventers, those in heavy work.
I believe that all horses are athletes. From the happy hackers to the riding school ponies. They are asked to do a job which involves a certain level of fitness and movement - just because it may not be as intense as some doesn't make it less important to maintain and train. We ask them to carry us, something that they aren't really designed to do but will adapt to very easily with the correct training.
Take Ted - my 21 year old semi retired ex-racehorse. We do very little now but plod around the countryside at a walk and he gets picked up and then put down again regularly due to my busy schedule. But when I pick him up I don't head straight out for an hour on our first outing in a month. We start off slowly with a 20 minute pootle and build up over the coming weeks. I want to make sure that his back and core are strong enough for the job and that we don't over do it for his old bones.
So although his athletic level is low it is still a level that needs to be met mindfully. He is treated once a month, taped regularly and hand walked over poles. That sounds like a lot to do for an old boy who just plods about but it is extremely important.
So now that we are coming out of lockdown and competitions are ramping back up again how are you preparing your athletes? We ask a lot of our horses and the vast majority just get on with it asking for nothing in return. But as you get excited about getting back out there make sure that you are mindfully training your horse to do the job you want it to do. Their anatomy is very similar to us - they have muscles and bones, tendons and ligaments which all nee strengthening and conditioning for the job that is required of them.
For example, ever not been able to sit on the loo the day after leg day? This is due to Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS - https://www.sjmsosteopathy.com/single-post/2020/07/02/Why-Am-I-So-Sore ) which occurs due to damage to the muscle cell membranes caused by exercise. This damage is normal and necessary for muscle growth but it can be damn painful! Horses can also experience DOMS when their training intensity is being ramped up. It is important to increase their workload steadily - approximately 10% or less a week should help prevent DOMS.
Massage is also a great DOMS preventer. It helps to stimulate blood flow to the area allowing all the goodness in that blood help to repair the microtears to the muscle cells. Also make sure that you warm up your horses thoroughly and if you are travelling them to lessons or competitions try and arrive with plenty of time for them to recover from the journey which can be like a workout in itself for them.
So if you are ramping up the training ready for the comp season just hold your horses! Take it steady, warm up thoroughly and book an appointment for your athlete to keep them in tip top condition!