Wispy’s Winter Fitness

Wispy’s Winter Fitness

My beautiful flower, Wispy, has gotten a bit… shall we say, portly? She’s just like me, terrible posture and eats way too many sweets! We’ve decided to take this winter to get ourselves into shape. This being said, I have always really struggled when looking at aspects of equine fitness and exercise. There is so much out there and so much of it is based on unstudied theories, opinions, and misguided training philosophies. I struggle to pull apart what parts are beneficial to the horse’s well being and which parts are for us, for fun, sport, or cosmetic appearances.So much of concepts of physical training is done to help horses become more of what we aspire for them, and not so much for their own health. So much of these concepts are also taken to extremes which push the beneficial aspects of the training to detrimental lengths. Pushing collection to strain the hind end, strength and speed training to strain the joints, everything being pushed to be done to new, higher, faster, more dramatic extremes. My dear friend Janneke helped me puzzle through all of this and break it down step by step for me and Wisp just as she had for her horse DeeJay before he fell ill. So how did we break down what Wisp and I really need? and how do I teach it all with R+?
Let’s break it down…

Strength and Stamina
First lets look at Wispy’s strength – ya, she’s a Clydesdale, she’s strong, but really out of shape when it comes to this topic specifically. Her hind end is weak given her regular, slouching, parked out posture. She’s really gotten comfortable living with minimal effort. Especially when the world is hot and buggy. So we’ll use the Winter cold air and even the snow to our advantage!
To build our strength we’ll work on skills that help bring her weight to her hind end and lift her forehand. Our goal is to help encourage her to carry her own body, but this requires a good bit of strength to maintain. So our goal is to use her own body weight in strategic ways to help her build the strength she needs to comfortably and easily hold herself up while at rest. We’ll integrate speed and stamina building exercises to help shake loose the tension from strength building. Weight lifting gets exhausting fast and can be slow, boring, and demotivating as it gets more difficult the more time you spend doing it. So if we intermix a bit of gentle cardio type exercises it helps loosen the tension and stir up the fun. This will help her shake off the pressure and strain of toning those muscles. It’ll also help her progressively build up her stamina for movement through play and fun.

We’ll build strength in the hind and pull the weight off the forehand with the use of crunches and walking up and down steep slopes, backing up nice and straight as well as backing up hills and over poles. This will help bring her focus to her putting her weight back and strengthening up her rump and hind legs. We know this is beneficial in helping her remain sound throughout her life, picking up her spine and strengthening her topline. With her size and shape she is at high risk of developing sway back, the muscle on her top-line is already fading fast with her sedentary life-style.

Of course this tough backing up and slopes will be difficult and strenuous for Wispy, so we’ll break it up with little bouts of walking and jogging to re-loosen and stretch her muscles, inspiring a bit of fun and play as we work out. Short stretches of trot to halt transitions (stopping for the click) will also help pull her weight back, in a less obvious and stressful way. Combinations of poles and small jumps will also inspire some extra play to our sessions while continuing to help keep her limber and supple. Lots of transitions throughout all of this will also keep her body and mind engaged. Scattering the ground poles in creative ways, spirals, mazes, and clustered piles to pick her way through, are all ways to help bring awareness to her feet. All engaging her mind and body, bringing awareness, strength and building stamina as we develop over the cold months of winter.

Flexibility, balance, and Proprioception
Target stretches, stationing mats, balancing mats, platforms, blocks
Strength and stamina are obvious ways to develop fitness, but in order to do so in a healthy and bio-mechanically correct way, we need to also focus on flexibility and proprioception. Proprioception is the body’s way of being aware of where it is in space. You know how you can close your eyes but still be able to touch your finger to your knee or your nose? Being aware of all your extremities is no easy task for a creature as big and bulky as a Clydesdale (ok even for my 5-foot self it’s not to easy!) But awareness is extremely important for being able to use our bodies effectively and correctly. So we broke down a few exercises to help my sweet Clydesdale princess learn to find herself.

We’ll use a wide variety of foam mats and fabric mats, pillows and mattresses to help Wisp broaden her awareness of where and how she steps – as well as with which legs. We use a variety of body targets and tactile stimulation all over her body (different brushes, gentle taps, vibrations, fluffy fabrics, and so on…) will also help develop more awareness and control throughout her body. Using some platforms, big and small to help her coordinate her steps onto and over obstacles will also help her become aware of each foot individually. We’ll take some of this coordination tasks up a notch with teeters and unbalanced platforms for her to focus on finding and maintaining her balance. We’ll also work on flexibility through a collection of target stretches and body targets to develop deep body stretches.

We’ll keep you posted with regular updates on Wispy’s work outs and hopefully we’ll have a great transformation to show come Spring! Wisp and I should be ready for our matching bikinis!