It takes a lot of careful planning and hard work to get horses fit and at their peak for a top level competition. We have been catching up with 4* event rider Harry Dzenis who is looking ahead to Badminton to find out how he gets his horses fit after their winter holidays.
After a long season of Eventing I like to give all of my horses a holiday at grass. I think that this is really important for them to have some down time, relax and not see me for a while! The time they have off can vary from horse to horse, depending on their needs, age and goals for the coming season. The horses are turned out in a herd with their back shoes off in a large field. I check them daily for any abnormalities and to give them a daily feed. At this stage if they are maintaining weight well on forage alone I tend to feed them Spillers Daily Balancer to ensure that they receive all their essential vitamins and minerals.
My 4* horse Xam, who finished 11th at Burghley last year, had six weeks off during October and November. When he came back into work, I hacked him from the field starting with 30 minutes walking and building up to an hour over the next two weeks. On the third week of walking Xam came back to his stable where he resumed his normal routine, out in his field during the day and in his stable at night. I think that it is really important that horses have as much turn out as possible, even in the winter, to keep his routine as natural as possible.
In the third week I started to incorporate trotting into the hacks. As his work load increases, I gradually start to increase his feed by adding Spillers Lay Off Cubes and Spillers Conditioning Fibre. Thanks to feeding advice from our Spillers Nutritionist Yvonne Judith, we have also started adding Spillers Speedy-Mash Fibre to their diets which they all really enjoy.
After a good month of hacking and hill work, Xam starts to go in the school. At this stage I still like to do more hacking than schooling as we still have a long winter ahead and I want to save his best performance until the season! I find at this time of year lunging is a great tool to help build up muscle and fitness and add variety to their routine. At this stage Xam would’ve had his first canter, this can either be in the school or if the ground is good out hacking. I also incorporate pole work into their schooling to prepare their muscles for more gymnastic work building up towards jumping and again to add variety to their routine.
Over the years I’ve had Xam we have had to take his diet and management into careful consideration as he is prone to tying up. Thanks to Spillers we have a carefully calculated diet which is low in starch and high in fibre. I don’t like to clip the horses until they are well into their 4th week of hacking as I feel this stops you doing too much too soon with them. It also keeps the muscles warmer which in the cold winter months is really crucial and might stop me from being bucked off!
10-15 years ago, the trend was to give your horses 2 to 3 months off in the winter but with the way the sport is changing this sort of routine is becoming less common. I still feel it is hugely important for horses to get their downtime and be allowed to be horses. I like them to roll in the mud and enjoy themselves. By giving them less time off you can take your time when bringing them back into work and take into account any lost time due to snow or ice.
Every horses’ needs in the winter are different and my other Burghley ride Dromgurrihy Blue (Rocky) had a slightly different routine. He still enjoyed some time out in the field but I gave him a bit less time off. Rocky thrives on having a shorter holiday and coming back into light work a little earlier than the others. In order to keep the weight and muscle on him but without over feeding him I feed him WINERGY Equilibrium Growth. Growth is a fantastic feed as it is high in fibre and oil to promote weight, is low in starch to avoid unwanted excitability and is full of good quality protein to help muscle development and topline.
My main focus for the winter is don’t do too much too soon. A full on season can be an intense time for an event horse so don’t over train them in November and still expect to have a fresh horse in March. Make sure they have plenty of variety in their work. If the weather is bad and you can’t ride, then make sure you adjust their diet accordingly and reduce their feed. I like to look at pictures or videos of the horses from the previous season to give me inspiration as there is nothing worse than hearing the rain pouring down outside when you still have 4 to ride in the middle of January. Both Xam and Rocky are aiming for Badminton this year (fingers crossed!) so here starts the long build up to the big ‘B’ and there is lots more work to do between now and that famous weekend in May, wish me luck!
It’s been great to hear how Harry gets his horses back into work from being woolly bears in the field to back in to their working routines. It’s interesting to hear how he adapts each horse’s routine to suit their individual needs. Fingers crossed both Xam and Rocky’s build up to Badminton goes well and we look forward to catching up with Harry again nearer the time. WINERGY is our sister brand and you can find more information on their product range here.
–Badminton horse trials, Fitness, Getting horses fit, Harry Dzenis, horse riding, Xam