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Champion cool-downs

A constructive cooling down period is vital to ensure your horse returns to his stable or paddock in an optimal mental and physical state. Here’s what to consider at the end of your ride:

Cool-down

Like warming up, the length of time you spend cooling your horse down will depend on several factors, such as his age, fitness level, breed, how taxing the session was and the weather conditions. However, on average, most of us should aim to spend around 10-15 minutes cooling our horse down after a work session.

Follow our guidelines here to ensure that your horse is cooled down properly:

  1. Aim to finish your schooling session on a good note when your horse has tried particularly hard or has understood a new exercise or challenging movement.
  2. In rising trot, begin to ride some large circles, serpentines and figures of eight, gradually encouraging your horse to stretch down into a longer and lower frame. Do this steadily to avoid your horse collapsing on the forehand or hollowing over his back.
  3. After about five minutes of stretched trot work, bring your horse forward to walk and repeat the exercise above, allowing your horse to stretch down for around five minutes or until he’s no longer blowing or sweating. Keep the walk active and in a clear four-beat rhythm.
  4. A nice way to finish your session is to dismount, loosen the girth by a couple of holes and lead your horse in-hand for a minute or two. You can do this around the arena or, even better, provide a change of scenery by walking him around the property.
  5. If your horse is still hot and sweaty, wash him off and remove the excess water with a sweat scraper.

Did you know?

A fit horse will recover quicker from exercise than an unfit or overweight horse. Timing how long it takes for your horse’s breathing to return to normal each time you ride will allow you to get some indication of how his fitness levels are changing over time.


Dos and don’ts

Do

  • Know your horse’s resting pulse and respiration rates. This way, you will know when these levels have returned to normal, and he has fully recovered from the cardiac element of his exercise.
  • Allow your horse to stretch gradually. Let your horse find his own way into a longer and lower outline as this gives his muscles time to adjust to the new position, without any sudden or forced movements.

Don’t

  • Skip the cool-down period. If you don’t cool your horse down properly, you run the risk of post-exercise injury, sore muscles and even tying up. All of these can have serious consequences. If you don’t have much time for your riding session, simply shorten the schooling element to allow for some cool-down; skipping the cool-down part in favour of more schooling is NOT a good idea.
  • Stand around chatting with your friends. Doing this might cause your horse to get stiff and cramp up. Focus on getting him cooled down and back in his stable or paddock before chatting with your mates.

In winter

While winter may feel a long way away, it is worth noting that your cool-down routine over this period may need to alter slightly. You will want to ensure your horse doesn’t get cold, so you might consider placing a cooler rug over his hindquarters while walking him. If you do decide to use a cooler rug, it is then important that you don’t remove it until your horse is fully dry, as taking it off when he is still hot and sweaty will increase the risk of chill. [end box]


Note

It is not uncommon to hear riders say that their horses ‘cannot stretch’. Yet, while many horses struggle to stretch and hold themselves without running on the forehand, all horses CAN stretch. Any horse who can eat grass, drink water and generally put their nose near the floor can stretch; it just takes training to help them to build the strength to do it well.


After shows

It goes without saying that after every class at a show, your horse will require a cool down. At competitions, we really put our horses through their paces, and, as a result, their bodies need even more support than usual to cool down safely. Whilst it can be challenging to do a full cool-down at a show with prize-giving, busy warm-up arenas etc., you should still spend as much time as possible cooling down your horse in the warm-up arena before hand-walking him or performing some carrot stretches.