The cool-down is one of the most important parts of your training session with your horse. Just like warming a horse up before exercise prepares the horse’s muscles for work, a cool-down prevents him from getting sore as it helps release the lactic acid that builds up in the muscles during exercise. A cool-down is also of value in making sure you end the session on a positive and calm note, which encourages your horse to look forwards to his next work session. Your cool down should always last between 10 and 15 minutes.
NOTE: Don’t forget to cool down your horse after competing. To do this take him back into the warm-up arena to do some stretching if it isn’t too busy, and/or take him for a long walk around the showground. It’s all too easy to jump off after your class, and forget that your horse needs to wind-down and cool-off.
Cool down step 1: Stretching
Stretching is useful at any point in a schooling session, but it’s easier at the end of a session as your horse will want to stretch down after work. Start your cool-down by asking your horse to take his neck forward and down. This helps to lift his abdominal muscles and causes him to round his back muscles, which helps to stretch them out. To do this:
Start in walk and and let your reins slip through your fingers, while retaining a soft contact on the mouth. At the same time keep your horse walking at a good pace to ensure his hind legs keep stepping under. To teach the stretch you may need to initially carry your hands slightly lower and wider to help him understand what you want. Gradually allow more rein to see if you can get your horse to stretch lower, but do keep a feel on the mouth. Ultimately you may be able to stretch your horse in trot as well in the same way.
Cool down step 2: Walking
After you have spent 5-10 minutes stretching as above, walk him around the school or take him on a short hack on a long rein for at least another 5-10 minutes. Make sure he’s still walking actively, and taking long, swinging strides to help keep him moving and stretching out.