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Developing the Equine Athlete

Personal training is one of the fastest growing businesses out there because of all the help that people need in avoiding muscle imbalances and developing strength and flexibility. All around us, we see gyms and fitness clubs for people to work out at. As someone who is finishing their personal training certification, I feel very strongly about the benefits of fitness and exercise. I also see how we emphasize different training aspects for different purposes, especially some that most people wouldn't think of (like agility training for elderly populations to help prevent falls). But what about horses? That's where we have dressage. However, I think that a lot of people have forgotten that dressage can benefit the horse out of the arena as well.

In the past, horses were somewhat necessary for survival. They were necessary for transportation, for warfare, for work. While classical riding was developed in a cradle of patronage by the royalty nobility, any ecuyer who couldn't keep his employer's horse sound through careful, thoughtful conditioning would find himself without a job, especially if his employer imported that horse at great expense from a foreign country. These ecuyers however, didn't have the modern luxuries we have of various therapies, such as chiropractic, PEMF, massage, cold laser, joint injections, etc. They had riding, some massage through grooming, and that was all. Gustav Steinbrecht himself was a veterinarian yet vehemently promoted classical principles (which were already old by the time he was training) as the first step to preventing lameness.

Classical riding isn't just about pretty horses dancing around "wiggling their butts" (as Patton had once said). It's about developing basic functional fitness in the equine. And why would that be necessary in modern times where we have all these other modalities to keep the horse healthy and sound? Simply put: just as those modalities aren't meant to replace proper conditioning and fitness in the human, they're not meant to replace proper conditioning in the horse. Proper exercise in both horse and human should reduce the risk of injury because of balanced strength, flexibility, and agility. Besides, owning horses is expensive enough; why not take steps to have to avoid using so much of those therapies? They can absolutely enhance performance in both equine and human, but there is no replacing proper conditioning.

The Old Masters learned through trial and error over hundreds of years how to properly condition the horse without the benefit of technology, and after all those years, they came up with incredibly inventive, effective exercises that still are applicable today. I've seen horses almost miraculously improve with classical riding, not just in the arena, but in the pasture. Horses with lameness and injuries regained their strength and balance almost better than before. Horses that were more clumsy became lighter on their feet and more aware of their bodies. Obese horses lost weight and gained energy. Horses with anxieties calmed down with something to focus their energies. They all toy with their bodies to see what they can do with their newfound strength and power, and they love riding, not for the cookies before and after, but for those moments they feel good in their bodies. The work became a reward in itself.

We diligently work with each horse to create an individual program not for the goal of being successful in the competition arena, but for the goal of having a horse that is strong and agile with a lower chance of injuring himself, that is happy with how his body feels, and that looks forward to every ride for the same reason we look forward to it. After all, shouldn't that be the goal?

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