I just returned from a busy and exciting horse show, the Galway Downs International Three Day Event, in southern California. At this show, horses participating at the FEI level need to present to the ground jury twice. My goal with my equine clients was to have them pass the jog with flying colors and complete the event sound and healthy. I decided with this show to be proactive: I would not wait to see a problem to use cold laser therapy, but apply it before every jog and phase of competition.
The results were that every horse easily passed inspection, had fewer (or no) rails in stadium, and were less sore after cross country. This routine will add time to the care of each horse at a show, but seeing the results convinces me that it is well worth it.
At 3 day events, I often see people practicing the jog repeatedly. The horse gets more and more stiff, gets held, and sometimes fails to pass. For many horses, I think there is a better way to prepare, and pass the jog:
Step One would be a thorough sports massage before the jog. I often combine this with cold laser in spots that are especially tight. The cold laser also helps release calming endorphins when used on strategic points on the head and face.
Step Two would entail a long walk. The walk uses all muscles without using momentum, so it is an excellent warm up. Walking also reinforces the body balancing work that was done during the massage.
Step Three would be to skip the trot and go directly to canter. This could be done on the longe line. Just a few circles in each direction would make a huge difference, as canter is the gait that lengthens all the muscles. (Trot is the gait that shortens the muscles, so continuing to practice the jog will make the horse appear more and more choppy.) Canter lengthens the back muscles, which is so important for every breed, but especially thoroughbreds that tend to shorten up when excited.
I hope these ideas are helpful to all of you this show season. Let me know how it goes!
If your horse is taking short strides, or seems to be having trouble straightening out his stifle, it could be that the semitendinosus is in spasm. If I feel something that resembles a tight wire, I know the horse is in danger of tearing the hamstring. I always try to teach the owner how to maintain suppleness through daily massage when there is a tendency to be tight here. I find jumpers and eventers (especially at the upper levels) are particularly prone to stress in the semitendinosus. Dressage horses that do a lot of lengthening practice also tend to strain this area, which runs from the top of the tail down the back of the hind leg. Once injured, this area seems to be extremely susceptible to repeated injury. I always make a note in my charts to keep an eye on this muscle in horses with tightness or previous injury, and if I see the horse at a show, I might just stop by for a quick check. A few minutes a day by the rider can help avoid a painful injury. Feel free to have me show you what you can do to keep your horse injury free. I have seen horses who are held, or fail ,the jog who are stepping short behind because stress is present in the semitendinosus. Hill work and sports massage can help avoid this frustrating situation.