Walk, Don’t Run, to Prevent Injury

Dealing with soft tissue injuries seems to be part of life with horses. But, there are several steps that riders can take to reduce the chance of injury.  The most important is often the most overlooked. Do you know what it is?  It’s….walking.

Yes, walking.  Simple and easy, but often glossed over.  Starting each ride with 15 minutes of walking and ending each ride with 10 minutes of walking can go a long way in helping your horse stay sound. This doesn’t mean 5 minutes of walking then, “my horse warms up better at the canter, so I’m going straight to that.” It doesn’t mean, “my horse can be crazy, so I’m going to put him on the lunge line right away to blow off steam.” And it certainly doesn’t mean, “I only have 20 minutes to ride today, so I need to jump right in to the important stuff.” It means FIFTEEN ENTIRE MINUTES of walking prior to asking for anything more. Not only does it help prepare the horse and rider mentally for the lessons to come, but the physical benefits are numerous.

Walking allows the horse’s breathing and heart rate to increase gradually.  It helps increase circulation, sending more blood into the muscles to warm the fibers. With the increase in blood flow comes an increase in oxygenation. The increase in temperature also increases the elasticity of tissues. Muscles are able to contract and relax more efficiently, and tendons become more elastic. This increase in elasticity may reduce the chance of a tear once harder work is started, as studies have shown that a greater force is required to injure warmed-up tissue (compared to “cold” tissue that is more prone to injury).

A good walk warmup is especially important in the summer, when most horses spend their days in a stall.  Walking can help lubricate the joints and give you clues on what areas you need to spend extra time suppling.

Walking doesn’t have to mean a slow shuffle.  You can work on walk/halt transitions.  You can walk in the fields prior to entering the ring. You can even hand walk before getting on or lunging. The point is to give the horse’s body time to prepare for the demands of the work ahead.

Don’t forget the cool down – at least 10 minutes of walking at the end of your ride enables the horse to metabolize the waste products generated during work.  This helps reduce the chance of muscle stiffness and soreness post ride.

So here’s to walking!  And more walking. And more walking.