Camps are becoming more and more popular among riders of every discipline, pony clubs and riding clubs. They are a great way to get a variety of lessons, with a variety of instructors at some great venues, also to have lots of fun with your friends and make lasting memories with your four legged friend. However, as an instructor and physical therapist I have worked at many camps over the years so have seen the good the bad and the ugly!! As camp season starts I feel it is important for your horses’ welfare for you take on board my top 6 points to ensure your horse is as happy with their experience of camp as you are.
- Don’t throw you horse into it – make sure they are fit enough to do the level of work that you want them to. Far too often I have seen people at camp that are just getting their horse back into work and thought that camp would be a good start. At the majority of camps horses are having 2 lessons per day of approximately 1 hour per lesson for 2 -3 days on the trot, flat work, jumping, cross-country. This is a level of work that they are not fit enough for, and pushing them to do this can be detrimental to their health and can cause injury, as the muscles and cardiovascular system are not accustomed to the level of work required. Make sure a correct fitness regime is followed and you are getting towards the end of it before subjecting your horses to this level of activity
- Don’t do too much & if your horse is showing signs of fatigue stop. Don’t feel you need to get your money’s worth by carrying on, completing every lesson to the end, jump every jump, do all the farm rides etc. as your horse will be fatiguing. If they start flagging cool the off and let them rest if they are not able to do their next lesson that’s fine. When horses fatigue they are a lot more likely to have an accident or suffer from an injury, it is not worth the long term welfare of your horse. Signs of fatigue include:
- Slowing of pace, stride and lack of motivation
- Decreased responsiveness to the aids, unwillingness or inability to increase speed or change gait
- Reduced coordination; such as stumbling, loss of balance, wandering, increased occurrence of over-reaching, brushing and hitting obstacles which will all increase the chance of injury
- Frequent changes of canter lead or becoming disunited, increased head and neck movement and inability to perform specific movements they could previously do eg. Jump height, piaffe
- Increased breathing effort
You may miss out on some of your lessons, or not jump the big jump at the end, but at least your horse won’t suffer a catastrophic injury or be so fatigued they can’t carry on to do a lesson the next day
- Take your own hay/haylage – even if the venue provide it for the duration still make sure you take enough of your own to last for the time. 2 reasons, number 1; if your horse doesn’t like the forage that they provide they will have nothing to eat, 2; changing forage can be extremely upsetting for your horses digestive system. Take your own so you can mix it with what the venue provide to ensure a slow change to not shock the digestive system, the 2-3 days you will be there isn’t long enough to change over completely, so again for the return home take a few nets of their forage with you to again mix with your usual stuff when you get home to ensure a gradual change back to your usual hay or haylage.
- Use a good digestive balancer – I have seen many horses suffer with digestive issues while at camp such as colic and diarrhoea. The usual causes are increased stress, travelling, the change in forage, change in routine, lack of turn out, increased work load to name a few so always give your horse a good digestive balancer even just for the short term. Start a few days before you travel to camp, continue while at camp and carry on for a few days after you return home. We recommend BettaLife PharmaTrac Total Digestive Support available in 120g, 400, 1kg costing £5, £24.99 & £39.99 respectively. https://theanimaltherapyhub.com/product/bettalife-pharmatrac-total-digestive-support/
- Another issue seen regularly at camp or shortly after returning home is exertional rhabdomyolysis also known as azoturia or Monday morning syndrome. There are many causes but the ones that usual relate to the camp situation are overfeeding non-structural carbohydrates (grain/pellets) as most realise the horse will be working more so increase their feed, poor conditioning or fitness, sudden increase of workload which we have already discussed, working too hard after a period of rest, especially if the feed ration was not reduced. Another common reason at camp is electrolyte or mineral imbalances, especially potassium. Therefore, along with a high quality digestive balancer it is important to feed a decent electrolyte. The electrolyte we recommend are Science Supplements Complete Electrolytes available in 60g syringe, 2kg, 10kg costing £9.99, £36.99 & £149.99 respectively. https://theanimaltherapyhub.com/product/science-supplements-complete-electrolytes/
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