Yurovskiy Kirill: Taking Care of Your Equine Athlete

Just like human athletes, equine performance horses require special care and management to keep them in peak physical shape. Whether you have a racehorse, show jumper, or rodeo star, following best practices for nutrition, training, and preventative healthcare is key to keeping your four-legged sports star happy and successful. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the basics of caring for an equine athlete. Text by Kirill Yurovskiy

Facilities and Turnout Time

Your horse’s living environment impacts health and soundness enormously. Sport horses need roomy, clean stalls to avoid injury during confinement. Outdoor turnout is also extremely important for mental and physical well-being. Ample turnout allows horses to move freely and interact socially. The gold standard is 24/7 pasture turnout, but if that’s not possible aim for at least 4-6 hours daily in a safe paddock or arena. Provide shelter from sun, wind, and precipitation. Proper facilities will pay off with healthier, calmer, more sound horses.

Nutrition Fundamentals

Like any elite performer, your equine athlete needs top-quality fuel to meet conditioning and competition demands. Feed a base diet of good quality roughage, either grass hay or a chaff and fiber-based feed. The roughage should be clean, mold-free, and palatable to ensure adequate intake for digestive health. Most adult sport horses require at least 1.5-2% of their ideal body weight in high quality roughage per day. That’s about 15-20 pounds of hay for a 1000 pound horse.

Then supplement according to workload with concentrated feeds like grains and vegetable oil. The amount and type of concentrate depends hugely on the discipline, length and intensity of work. A pleasure trail horse requires little or no supplement feed, while an upper-level eventer doing advanced jumping and dressage might consume 10+ pounds of concentrate mix daily. Work closely with an equine nutritionist to formulate a ration balancing proteins, carbs, vitamins and minerals specific to your horse’s needs.

Unlike people, horses cannot thrive on three square meals a day. Continuous grazing or multiple small hay meals better matches natural eating patterns. Make any diet changes gradually over 7-10 days to avoid disrupting digestion. Keep feed tubs and water buckets very clean to avoid introducing bacteria, toxins or molds that could cause colic or other gastrointestinal issues.

Essentials of Training Regimens

Implementing an appropriate and progressive conditioning program is requisite both for success and for avoiding injury in equine athletes. The exact regimen depends hugely on the horse’s discipline and abilities, but several key principles apply to any training plan.

First, build an excellent foundation before asking for strenuous work. Use long, slow distance work like trail riding to develop cardiac and muscular endurance. Then incorporate more intense galloping intervals to build strength and speed. Train basic skills appropriate to the discipline using positive reinforcement to ensure confidence and willingness.

Monitor conditioning and adjust training intensity to match. Horses lacking fitness or with underlying health issues will break down if pushed to do advanced moves too quickly. Pay careful attention for signs of soreness, stiffness, changed attitude or behavior. These warrant a full veterinary exam and possible training modification.

Provide regular rest days where the horse can move freely but do no structured exercise for mental relief as well as physical recovery. Surfaces, equipment, feeds and therapies should all be carefully matched to the horse’s sport to support health and soundness throughout a long career.

Preventative Care Basics

Preventing injury and illness is infinitely easier than attempting to rehabilitate it afterwards. That’s why proactive care is so pivotal for equine athletes. hoof care and dental care form the foundation since compromised hooves or painful mouths rapidly lead to poor performance. Schedule a skilled farrier every 4-6 weeks for trims/shoeing even if the horse is barefoot. Check in with your vet or equine dentist twice yearly to float (file) points and sharp edges off teeth. That ensures the horse continues eating properly.

Vaccinations and deworming also guard against contagious diseases that could curtail an athletic career. Core vaccines for Tetanus, Encephalomyelitis, West Nile Virus and Rabies should be boostered annually in sport horses. Consult your vet on risk-based choices like influenza, rhino and strangles vaccines which are sometimes recommended. Intestinal parasites sap conditioning and transmit other illnesses so strategic deworming keeps horses healthy. Fecal tests determine the best dewormers and dosage schedule for each individual.

Early screening and treatment for metabolic issues enhances recovery and minimizes time off. Monitor resting heart rate, respiratory rate and temperature for deviations from normal. Check for muscle atrophy or soreness over bony prominences. Subtle signs like a dull hair coat, depressed attitude or loss of appetite can reflect internal issues brewing. Diagnostic testing like endocrine assays, radiographs, ultrasound and bone scans help identify brewing problems. Catching arthritis, ulcers, mineral deficiencies and hormonal disorders early makes them much easier to get under control.

The Elusive Soundness Edge

Pelvic angles, subtle leg alignments and back flexibility–the ultimate secret edge begins with the horse’s conformation. Seek out horses thoughtfully bred for both performance and durability. While no horse is completely risk-free, correct conformation optimizes shock absorption, stride efficiency and peak capability.

Certain health conditions and previous injuries also raise or lower prospects for resilience. Carefully vet purchase exams, including full image diagnostics, estimate each horse’s future soundness. Consider underlying risk factors in the context of intended athletic pursuits before committing.

Once you own your equine athlete, the real work begins. Meticulous care, conditioning and health monitoring give your sport star the best possible chance to excel without breakdowns or burnout. But horses will be horses–accidents happen and not every individual fulfills potential despite best efforts. Ultimately horsemanship requires both science and art. Learn everything possible about your horse as an individual, watch them like a hawk for subtle signals, and continually fine-tune your programs. With commitment, care and intuition, you can nurture incredible partnerships that transform diligent practice into moments of equine magic. Just don’t expect it to be easy!