The progress made in the conditioning of Arabian horses for the halter classes in the last decade has been beyond compare. In America the technique of perfecting the horse’s appearance resembles the secret diets and body sculpting of Hollywood stars. The days when a good, but unprepared “show-wise” horse could enter a ring and win are long gone. There are too many ideal horses – and so (just like in the modeling business) a need for conditioning was born, which would cover up possible body flaws.
The first question that needs to be asked is: what part of my horse needs improvement? The answer must be honest and if we ourselves cannot answer truthfully, it’s better to rely on an expert’s opinion. Arabian horses often show a soft back, poor hindquarter muscles or excessive fat deposition on the neck. All these faults can be leveled by the appropriate system of training.
Lungeing is the basic method for preparing horses for showing. It is not the only method, but definitely the most popular one. We must remember that galloping on the lunge develops mostly the hindquarter muscles, whereas trotting – the back muscles. The drawback of this method is the lack of control over the horse. It is hard to make your pupil trot with his head low (the most effective way of leveling the topline) or to ask him to gallop quietly, during which the horse brings his inside hind leg far under his body, developing hindquarter muscles.
Definitely a more effective method. By riding a horse we can get him to use those groups of muscles which we specifically want to see developed. And so trotting with the head low pulls the back muscles and strengthens them, which enhances the horse’s appearance in halt. Whereas galloping on a tight circle engages the hindquarter muscles (especially those of the inner leg) and as a result improves the hindquarter’s musculature.
The most multi-purpose method of improving the condition of a horse. Horses are not natural-born swimmers, but they usually get used to this kind of exercise. An average pool for horses is about 70-90 feet in diameter (about 25-30 meters). Of course there are larger pools and it is up to the trainer to adjust the training to the horse’s needs. Swimming in the pool is a huge exertion for the animal and the training should begin with just a couple of minutes in the pool, gradually increasing the time to 10-15 minutes. Swimming is such a great method, because it offers an improvement in the condition of the horse in a short amount of time, allowing the trainer to work with a couple of horses daily. Apart from that it allows for even development of all the muscle groups. In short, if the horse doesn’t require specific work for a specific group of muscles, swimming is the best method. However there is a risk of overtraining. If we increase the time to over 15 minutes daily, the horse will begin to use up the reserves of adipose tissue (fat), which is necessary in some percent during the show. An individual observation and the right amount of swimming time is in this case very important.
The general rule
You cannot demand from the trainer to prepare a horse for a show in a halter class in a time shorter than 3 months. It is not fair towards the horse, as well as towards the trainer. Usually 90 days of training allow for evaluating the horse by the presenter, as well as give the minimum time for improving the condition.
The cosmetology of horses before the show is a separate matter and a subject for another article. But here are a couple of ways to enhance the condition of the horse just prior to the show.
1. If you want to increase a horse’s weight, divide the feed into 3 or 4 portions a day before the show.
2. A glass of sunflower oil (as a feed supplement) once a day not only improves the condition but also enhances the shine of the coat.
3. The best feed supplement that improves the condition and coat shine is rice meal (a glass per day).
4. Neck sweating consists of dehydrating the adipose tissue (fat). The same effect can be achieved by putting on a foam neck sweat 30 days prior to the show, as well as doing it 90 days before the show.
5. The best results come from lungeing in neck sweats and afterwards dressing up the horse in neck sweats (you can add an additional blanket or rug on the neck) and getting him on the walking machine. The horse should move at a walk for the next hour.
6. You should also take into consideration the amount of weight the horse will lose during traveling to the show. This is individual for each horse and you basically need to know your animal. Of course the easiest horses are those with a balanced temperament, who do not get affected by transport. Unfortunately, there are not many of those around.
Proper conditioning results in a well balanced horse during the show itself. For example a horse without muscular hindquarters might appear to be falling on his front.
The most important thing however is what I’ve mentioned at the beginning, which is a thorough and honest evaluation of the horse – because none of them are perfect!