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  1. #1
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    Default Dressage and Horse Health Issues....

    Fellow Cothers....

    I've been having a discussion with my trainer and vet regarding the correlation between physical issues (equine) and increasing dressage work.

    My trainer's POV is that with riding/working a horse up the levels in dressage, comes the increased incidence of physical issues/complaints of the horse. Thus the need for higher level of physical maintenance. I think this may be true of high level dressage horses in heavy competition, but not for your average AA who rides 5-6 days a week and shows maybe 4 times/year.

    I'm interested in hearing experiences from those of you who've owned and ridden horses up the dressage levels. What has been your experience? Are dressage horses just high maintenance and at higher risk of injury?



  2. #2
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    Well, I'd say any performance horse is at a greater risk of injury. They certainly have more wear and tear put on them than a pasture puff. But I wouldn't say it's limited to dressage horses. I'm sure the wear and tear of jumping takes an equal or greater toll. I compare it to elite human athletes. Even though they are physically stronger than their non-althletic counterparts and are generally healthier, they also suffer a lot more injuries, simply because they are more active, therefore at greater risk of injuring themselves. You'd have to try really hard to injure yourself on the couch. Okay, so my short answer is that I guess I'd agree with your trainer.



  3. #3
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    as it also depends on the horse in question and those that are manageing the horse high maintance horses normally have high maintence team of people ie grooms vets and farriers as well as the owner plus also might have a different rider to the owner to compete the horse with proper competition horses its not always relayed on one person ie say owner , normally theres a team of people and they have strict protocol

    and depending what the horses displine is depends on there fitness programme
    each displine is different and has different feeding exercise and fitness programmes
    for exsample one wouldnt be feeding, trianing or exercising a dressage horse the same way you would a race horse

    and thus is also when one has a horse thats been in top class competitions or in a high mantenance positin and changes displines from one to another one should also understand that the horse should still be kept in good fitness good execise and a good rountine , as different mussles are being used in there bodies or if down grading to lighter work due to age etc and retiring from serious competive work etc

    then the horse still has to have a fitness programme so its not such a shock on his body in other words if one was comepetiing at higher levels and then was to retire from that
    you dont just stop and put in a field as an orniment the horse still needs to be able to work so you letting him down at a slower pace so is body get used to the changes
    in the same token if a horse was to change disiplines from racing to dressage
    then everything changes as the horse isnt schooled the same way
    and its doesnt stop there one has to think about tack and riders
    as they are both different as they a- heavier b- the tack lays different on the horse body and 3 agian is mussle as in they are using all diferent mussles in there bodies
    plus they have to learn again its not just physical

    as for injuries then it depends its possible for them to have a higher risk but its not as high as some would think
    than the average joe bloggs out for a ride on a horse or owner of the horse but there are far more accidents out side the area of competition work than inside its just its in the media so you know more off it, you only have to look on here as on coth and other bb to see how many horses are injured for lower level or ownership of a horse to see that average joe bloggs is the majority of the equine world has more problems with there horses and injuries than the higher ranking people or owners

    also some trianers you have are just people riding horses they are not qualified
    and thus cannot cope with complaints or understand why the horse is complaining
    as they dont go to the root of the problem lots of people have complaints via having what one calls a pita horse with so called trianers as they havent addressed the basics of schoolingor triaing a horse properly and are out of there depth with knowledge so they blame it as high maintenance



  4. #4
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    Actually, the "point" of Dressage training is to build the horse's strength in increments by following the training scale. So ideally you should be "decreasing" your horse's chance of injury as he gets stronger.

    Sadly, we know this isn't the case for quite a few horses. Many horses, in all disciplines, are too fat, have little to no turn out and are not conditioned appropriately for their "job". But Dressage horses shouldn't have any higher risk of injury.



  5. #5
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    I trhink you also tend to notice subtle things more if you are expecting a high level of performance form your horse.



  6. #6
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    You also have to look at the age thing....

    As the horse moves up the levels, he's getting older, and thereby needs more maintenance.

    Older horse + harder work = more maintenance (but horse fitness, conformation, rider skill all play a role)



  7. #7
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    It takes years to get to the higher levels. With age, 'changes' in the joints are inevitable and the soft tissue becomes easier to tear. It only takes a couple bad steps to strain a suspensory. I think it is nonsense that dressage should make a horse less prone to breakdown. I think that most, if not all, higher level competition horses are on a significant maintainance program. I do think this is one case where you are not in a position to judge unless you have trained a horse up the levels and see what is involved.



  8. #8
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    I've been told by a trainer if you are riding correctly your horse should not have any health/lameness issues.
    “Maybe some women aren't meant to be tamed. Maybe they just need to run free til they find someone just as wild to run with them.”



  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peace View Post
    I've been told by a trainer if you are riding correctly your horse should not have any health/lameness issues.
    lol, I wish that was all it took! Mine somehow manages to tweak a rib while he's rolling, be hyper-senstive to a trim, pull something while he's running aorund in pasture, inexplicably come up with a really bad back from one day to the next, oh yea, not to forget his arthritis flareups (from being a racehorse and having a fetlock surgically repaired)... oh I LOVE my boy!
    "Reite dein Pferd vorwärts und richte es gerade.” Gustav Steinbrecht



  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by ToN Farm View Post
    It takes years to get to the higher levels. With age, 'changes' in the joints are inevitable and the soft tissue becomes easier to tear. It only takes a couple bad steps to strain a suspensory. I think it is nonsense that dressage should make a horse less prone to breakdown. I think that most, if not all, higher level competition horses are on a significant maintainance program. I do think this is one case where you are not in a position to judge unless you have trained a horse up the levels and see what is involved.
    I can look out my window and see a 23 year old stallion (Trakehner) who doesn't have a blemish on him. He competed successfully through Grand Prix and retired sound at 20. He never missed a competition because of lameness and he never required anything other than food and water. The only "lameness" he ever had was when he pulled something in a fetlock, when he stepped on a "rolling" rock, chasing a pheasant. The Vet thought he would be layed up for several months, but he was sound and back in work in a month. He was 18 at the time. There is no doubt that it was his strength and fitness level that kept the injury so minor.



  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by NoDQhere View Post
    I can look out my window and see a 23 year old stallion (Trakehner) who doesn't have a blemish on him. He competed successfully through Grand Prix and retired sound at 20. He never missed a competition because of lameness and he never required anything other than food and water. The only "lameness" he ever had was when he pulled something in a fetlock, when he stepped on a "rolling" rock, chasing a pheasant. The Vet thought he would be layed up for several months, but he was sound and back in work in a month. He was 18 at the time. There is no doubt that it was his strength and fitness level that kept the injury so minor.
    WOW, Patty! That's fantastic!

    As you can see by my post, I'm struggling with the question. And, as evidenced by the responses, everyone has a different POV based on their experiences. I've owned Fjords who were hardy, hardy, hardy. Fresh air, hay, 24/7 turnout was all they needed stayed healthy (no chiro, hock injections, back injections, massage, fancy supps, etc.). HOWEVER, they were not asked for hard work in dressage (training/1st level only)



  12. #12
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    I think this is another issue that totally depends on the individual. Ideally, a horse should be built up over his performance years so that he is strong enough to do what is asked. But there are horses that have slight conformational issues or just weaknesses that will obviously be more apparent as the horse is performing at a higher level. The fact that horses get older as they move up the levels also influences soundness issues at higher levels.

    I think it's silly for a trainer to say all horses will require more maintenance at higher levels or, the opposite, that all horses should be just as sound in the higher levels because they are better trained/conditioned. I doubt either trainer who made those statements meant that either situation is the case 100% of the time.

    I'm working a horse right now that I think will be sound until he dies, no matter what level of performance he achieves. That is obviously barring any injuries occurring outside of training. He's just one of those hardy, sound horses. I've had other horses that looked perfectly fine, were as fit as could be, and just always had issues, even at low levels of performance.

    A solid fitness program that makes certain a horse is fit enough to perform at his best is definitely key, but I think it should be expected that many horses may require more maintenance at the higher levels. I think all of the points made in previous posts regarding the upper levels potentially requiring more maintenance make sense. Age is a factor. The extreme levels of performance and training required of a grand prix horse is another factor. Also important is that you will notice more little things in a grand prix horse that is competing heavily because you are at a different level in your mind too.

    Anyway, this is certainly an individual thing. There are horses that never have a lame day in their lives due in part to a good fitness program but also in part to good conformation and luck = ) There are others who may not be fit that get injured and others who may be fit but have a weakness somewhere that is magnified at higher levels of performance.



  13. #13
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    According to an article in a vet journal I read not long ago, long term soundness depends MOSTLY on the "3 Fs."

    1. Footing

    2. Farrier

    3. Fitness

    The discipline, the level of training, the conformation, etc. etc. are all not important as the "3 Fs."

    Hilda Gurney in the last issue of DT said that the thing that she learned over the years was not to ride in bad footing, no matter what. She said she would make an exception only if she was representing her country in an international show. She is SO right!
    "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain" ~Friedrich Schiller



  14. #14
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    Jan. 24, 2007
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    I think "atr" is right on the money. I don't think that horses necessarily have more issues as they move up in the levels but things which might not even be noticeable to an amateur at the lower levels can become huge to an FEI horse and rider. This is probably why the maintenance of an FEI horse is more intensive. Little problems which can really impact the performance at the upper levels might not have any bearing on how a horse is performing at training or first level.



  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by NoDQhere View Post
    Actually, the "point" of Dressage training is to build the horse's strength in increments by following the training scale. So ideally you should be "decreasing" your horse's chance of injury as he gets stronger.

    Sadly, we know this isn't the case for quite a few horses. Many horses, in all disciplines, are too fat, have little to no turn out and are not conditioned appropriately for their "job". But Dressage horses shouldn't have any higher risk of injury.
    AMEN.... that and high grain/low forage diets... definitely call for problems!!!
    I agree with you all the way... the point of lower level dressage is to make a horse more fit and reduce the risks of injury when done properly!



  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eclectic Horseman View Post
    According to an article in a vet journal I read not long ago, long term soundness depends MOSTLY on the "3 Fs."

    1. Footing

    2. Farrier

    3. Fitness
    May I add a good diet... that's a F too... Feeding



  17. #17
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    My trainer's POV is that with riding/working a horse up the levels in dressage, comes the increased incidence of physical issues/complaints of the horse.

    Thus the need for higher level of physical maintenance.

    -- MMM...I get to a point where I say NO.

    --I don't know what 'physical maintenance' meant in your conversation with her. For me, my horses get a ton of what my neighbor calls 'luvin' up' - massages, work boots, progressive gradually increasing work, carefully maintained footing, meticulous attention to any injuries, whether that means medication, other treatments, layups, hand walking, cost is no barrier, they get whatever they need.

    --But I will NOT keep a horse on a medication or treatment 'so he can work'. If he has chronic pain that is the time to say enough is enough and retire him.

    --I won't move a horse up if he needs a ton of 'maintenance' to stay in the work. I mean medication just to tolerate the work, or if a chiropractor or masseuse is running over to try and keep him fixed up enough that he passes the jog at a show.

    --I have to find something wrong, I have to be able to fix it and have it be over and done with. If he CAN'T, I absolutely refuse to try and 'keep him going' with medicines, chiropractic, etc. Either I can fix it, treat it, put the horse back in work and the problem is over, or he's retired or dropped down.

    I think this may be true of high level dressage horses in heavy competition, but not for your average AA who rides 5-6 days a week and shows maybe 4 times/year.

    --Actually, riding 5-6 days a week and 4 shows a year is a LOT of use, especially since each day of that show is probably 3 or perhaps many more, classes. And actually, an amateur riding at lower levels may be harder on a horse than he thinks. He may not work as consistently, or as progressively. He may throw in that 6 hr trail ride 'because it's nice out' or that 4 hr cattle sorting clinic 'because it sounds fun' and not realize he's throwing work at the horse that it's unfit for. He may lean to one side constantly, or keep the horse on the forehand, which puts more wear and tear on his forelegs. He may 'rick' the horse's back trying to get flying lead changes in the corner, or drill over and over 'to practice' and put on tons of miles on those legs.

    I'm interested in hearing experiences from those of you who've owned and ridden horses up the dressage levels. What has been your experience? Are dressage horses just high maintenance and at higher risk of injury?

    --Yes, they are, compared to horses being ridden 10 min a day at a walk. Upper level work - past 2nd level - done correctly, means riding daily, vigorously. Actively, bending and flexiing joints, going forward, reaching, bending, carrying a rider's weight, for YEARS.

    --Horses do not last as long at a given job if they are worked hard. It is really that simple. You get 'freaks' that last abnormally long, but they are exceptions, not the rule.

    --Athletic horses doing hard work need extra attention - plenty of hay so they still 'feel like a horse', time alone with other horses, legs done up, hand walking to loosen up, excellent surfaces to work on, lots of bedding to cushion tired legs and muscles in their stall, and good footing in turnout so they aren't wrenching their tendons just walking around.

    --And not just the riding is a risk. They travel more, they go to shows, clinics, lessons - there's loading, getting cast, slipping in the pasture. They do more, they go more places, there is more that can happen.

    --My horses got a ton of 'extra' care always - whether at the lower levels or doing more advanced work. I did everything I could possibly think of for them, and tried to learn all the time, what more I might do for them.

    --Upper level work is DIFFICULT physically. One does everything one cans to condition progressively so it's as easy as it possibly can be. It is something the horse does, largely, because he wants to. You can't MAKE a horse do flying lead changes, piaffe, passage, zig zags, tempe changes, if they aren't feeling very good...not so it would really fool anyone, anyway.
    Last edited by slc2; Mar. 20, 2009 at 04:19 PM.



  18. #18
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    A long time ago, JoAnn Wilson, a human physical therapist whose practice is/was at a hospital in Boston -- and who co-founded equine massage therapy with Jack Meager --told me that they have found dressage is the most physically hard on the horse, of all the disciplines. Most often the problems were "chronic", not acute like those more often seen in top event horses/jumpers. Thus the wear and tear may go undected longer without diagnosis and treatment (until it might appear to be "actute".)

    She is/was the massage therapist for the USET 3-day team for years and practices on a myriad of sport horses.
    She regularly worked on Boleem and many other of my horses when I could pry her down my way. Talk about someone who knows a horses body and the effects of the work...she was unbelievable.

    She was a big fan of mixing arena work with hacking out on a loose rein (at the walk) on firm, hilly terrain not necessarily for the mental break, but for strength building. She also said a horse that works only in soft footing or rubber is more prone to problems.

    For what it's worth.



  19. #19
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    What's her phone number, LOL.



  20. #20
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    INCORRECT dressage injures and ruins horses prematurely. Being jammed into a false frame wrecks their backs and all the structures in their hind legs.



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