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Re-conditioning broodmare

From: Susan G. Rehwinkel

Hi Jessica! Just when you thought I was done....


Anyway, baby Echo is getting big and we are talking about weaning her (not a moment too soon according to Dancer). Dancer has not been under saddle since December 1994 (since we thought Echo would be arriving Spring 95). So, given that it takes quite a while for bone & tendons to build, how fast do they lose strength?

She is usually out for 4-5 hours a day but is mostly interested in eating. Her weight is a little lower than I like but not bad (you can see the ribs but not from the pasture gate). I am not sure how much food she is getting (but Echo is eating some of it).

My plan is to lunge her for a while (at least until my arm can handle getting on a horse!) then ride (Walk/trot) then add canter work. I would love to be able to work on flextion, collection, etc. by Spring (and possibly trot poles as well).

Feel free to edit. Or answer directly if you think this isn't 'right' for horse-sense.


Hi Susan! This is a great question for horse-sense -- I'll certainly answer it here. ;-)

First, I'm a little concerned about the visible ribs. It's easy for a broodmare to get dragged down by a foal -- lactating broodmares need quite a lot of food. No wonder she's interested in eating, especially if Echo is eating our of her own creep feeder AND her mother's feed tub! But you can't start throwing groceries at Dancer quite yet, and here's why.

Echo is old enough to be weaned; when you take her mother away, Dancer will dry up more easily if she isn't overfed. Once she's dry, you can begin to increase her feed until you have those ribs covered -- as long as she needs food to build tissue, she won't have much left over to use for energy. And remember that winter is coming, too -- she'll need to go into winter carrying a little extra weight as a cushion against the possibility of a few days of extreme weather. Your vet will be able to help you adjust and time Dancer's feeding program as well as Echo's.

Longeing isn't always the best thing for a person with a torn rotator cuff, so be careful! Round pen work -- if you have access to a large round pen -- or free-schooling at one end of an arena would be preferable. Hand-walking is also good, and that gets YOU fit as well!

It's almost two years since Dancer has been under saddle -- start slowly. Literally. WALK her when you're ready to begin under-saddle work -- it should be safe to begin with fifteen minutes every other day for a week, and then fifteen minutes each day for a week, then begin riding her five or six days a week and adding five minutes each day until you're walking for an hour or so each day (back off if she shows any signs of discomfort or unsoundness, of course!). Her muscles will come back fairly quickly, but bone and support structures take a good bit of time to come back after such a long layoff. The fact that she's been out every day, even for a few hours, is a plus. If you can manage to keep her out MORE, perhaps even full-time, she'll give herself a fair amount of exercise every day. It won't make her riding-fit, but it WILL help strengthen tendons and bone, and it will supplement your ridden exercise.

I'd give Dancer a couple of months of walking before I added trot-work; then several months of walk and trot before I added canter work. Two years off is a long time, and it takes a year of exercise to remodel bone and strengthen tendons and ligaments. Don't worry, you'll be able to do more in the spring, and Dancer will be sound and fit to keep working through next summer and beyond. Take your time NOW and build her up systematically so that when you make more complicated demands on her body, she'll be able to take them in stride. Collection? That will depend on what she was doing BEFORE she became a broodmare, but if she was doing solid second-level work then, she should be able to get back to it by the end of the summer if all goes well.

Enlist your vet's help -- and the help of your instructor. They know Dancer, and they know what you were doing with her up to 1994. Then make a plan and a program, and follow it -- but always let Dancer tell you when she's had enough and needs a break, and when she's ready to move up a notch. It's hard to make a plan AND stay flexible, but you will need to do both.


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