The purchase of a new horse is always exciting and sometimes daunting. We should consider how this horse has been trained, and on which surfaces prior to purchase, in evaluating an exercise or training regime with the new rider. It is always tempting to push the horse as quickly as possible before thinking about how this horse has been trained and how the new environment will affect the horse.
We know through research in the USA that horses respond differently to different surfaces on which they are trained in racing. If we look at eventing we are able to extrapolate from this the importance of conditioning a horse to a new owner/trainer/rider. This conditioning process takes place over a number of weeks and months, and occurs in soft tissues, tendons, ligaments and muscles alongside changes in bone density and strength. During the process of conditioning there is breakdown and reformation of microscopic linkages and fibres within all connective tissues (bone, tendon, ligaments and muscle). This process of breakdown and remodelling is a natural response to training programmes that allows the tissues to adapt to the forces applied to the structures.
I would advise new owners to discuss the training/exercise regime with the previous owners and formulate with your trainer, rider and veterinary surgeon and formulate a conditioning programme to allow your horse to get used to the new regime without injury. We see cases of horses that have competed successfully without lameness and have passed soundness examinations and when a change of ownership occurs these horses begin to have subtle and not so subtle problems. In saying that we should work out a new training regime it will be difficult as there are many variables that come into play – the horse’s age, athleticism, surfaces available to train on and the training intensity. It is therefore important to allow the horse to tell you how it is coping with your new home facilities. Get to know your new horse’s limbs, allow them to talk to you. Look for any change in gait, any swelling, any heat – these may be signs that the horse is not currently tolerating your exercise programme.
The surfaces that you exercise on are important. We know through studies at the Hong Kong Jockey Club that quality and depth of surfaces affect rate of injury and given that in eventing the majority of the completion is on grass, use of grass in your conditioning process is important if at all possible.
When we purchase a competition horse that has been competing at Novice, Intermediate or Advanced level it appears that this conditioning is far more important than when purchasing a young horse because the horse in this circumstance will have found a way of going and the rider will have found a way of training that will have prevented repetitive injury from becoming a significant problem. The more advanced horses are in greater danger because they are working at a higher level but on a surface that they are not used to and conditioned to. A number of international dressage horses that have changed riders and have had significant problems. Young horses will not have become so ‘used to’ a training programme. This is not to say that we should not think carefully how to introduce young horses to our way of training