When talking of longevity, it’s most important to remember that a good competition horse takes many years to achieve a high level of competence.
In the early stages, thinking ahead to five years down the track can be a fleeting thought, but it should be a serious consideration. You must always look to the big picture. The care to train for a mentally and physically sound horse for tomorrow should always be a priority. The two go hand in hand.
Every rider has varying degrees of aspiration and, as a consequence, has to think logically and unemotionally about their goal. What discipline? The Olympics or adult riding? Pony Club or trail riding? No matter what the level you require, there are basic guidelines that you should always look to.
Too often we think of a horse as a means to an end. Put your horse in a human’s body and mind. Now look at him like you are going to make that human, your child, into an athlete. You may well chuckle right now! The rugby-playing diesel that is brave and chilled is not going to cut it as a sharp ballet dancer. The child that’s anxious and lacks self-confidence, has bow legs and a poor back isn’t one that you would push into gymnastics for top level and longevity, regardless if they have a great smile and figure.
Genetics will play a big part in longevity. Look to the parentage as a guide towards soundness. Dressage stallion Sandro Hit, for instance, is renowned for producing sound, good-limbed horses as a rule. Look to straight legs and good feet. Symmetry and a naturally well-balanced and muscled type for the job is a good start.
Now for the most important things when you start to train your chosen horse for your job. Number one, always make sure that you have time to ride. This is essential. If you don’t have the time on a particular day, a day off is better than a bad day’s training. Trying to get your work done in a short time is always a disaster! From experience, you know that if you are in a hurry it will all turn to custard, and it is these days when you take shortcuts in warm-up and cool-downs that injuries happen. That injury could be career-ending simply because you were in a hurry and took a shortcut.
Lungeing certainly has its benefits but I believe that sometimes it is fraught with dangers. Whirling around on the lunge, with no gear to aid in balance and form, wears joints out. The shearing of the joint surfaces, due to small circles at speed while unbalanced, is a sure way to reduce the soundness. If you are going to lunge or feel the need to, a walker is probably better. If not available, then the lunge work must be in control with plenty of walk and steady trot. If your horse wants to run away on the lunge, stop and proceed slowly. Do not go jamming side reins on and gear that is suddenly introduced, as this can result in horrendous accidents and even death! Horses tip over on the lunge — and we need not think of the consequences here.