Keeping your driving horse in shape during the winter can be a challenge. But then factor in the current pandemic and the coming flu season it can be overwhelming, to say the least.

Whether you are driving a hazard, pulling a sleigh through snow, driving down a parade route, or just going down the road your horse needs to be in his best condition possible. Keeping your driving horse in shape is no different than that of a typical sport horse that does dressage, jumping, reining, or and of the other fifty disciplines!

First, you need to be sure your horse is getting the basic care that all horses need.

  1. Vaccinations as needed normally (Spring and Fall)
  2. Deworming as needed by fecal sample review
  3. Dental exams at least once a year for most horses (a bit hitting a bad tooth is not appreciated by your horse)
  4. Basic regular hoof care whether you go barefoot or require shoes
  5. Chiropractic, massage, equine bodywork is great when needed
  6. The best feed that you can afford for the level of work your horse is doing
  7. Rule out any, and all health issues such as Cushings (PPID)
  8. Make sure your horse is eating the right amount of feed.
  9. Weigh your feed to make sure all meals are the same amount.

Some of the more common ailments that are seen in driving horses are hock and stifle injuries. Our driving horses can also develop arthritis just due to the wear and tear on their bodies.  Some of the breeds such as Morgans and Saddlebreds can be more prone to ringbone. Because we are asking our horses to pull us around in carriages, injuries are more likely to be in their hind end and legs due to the weight being pulled.

Common Driving Injuries

One of the more common injuries that I have seen has been in the horse’s back due to the driver asking their horse to pull a carriage that is too heavy for them or a carriage full of people that is way too heavy.  This is when the conditioning at home comes into play to keep this from happening.

One of the worst things you can do with your horse is to let him just hang out between competitions.  Your horses’ mind stays where you left it, but his body does not. This can cause problems going into your next competition.  Keeping them sound and fit in-between is just as important as getting them ready at the first of the showing season.

Eileen driving Sailor at the Black Canyon ADT. Sailor showed good condition while running the cones course. Keep your driving horse in shape is how Sailor achieved this.

 A solid base of cardiovascular fitness and musculoskeletal strength provided by regular conditioning sessions at the walk, trot, and canter will keep you ready for the next competition.

  • Horse whiskers – don’t be in a hurry to shave them off.  New rules in many organizations are not allowing you to do this.  FEI has banned trimming whiskers in competition horses. 
  • A few things you need to look out for during the showing season are:
  • Make sure you keep your horse well vaccinated during the show season. You don’t want him getting sick because he was lacking his vaccinations.
  • Be sure to do a fecal sample when you return from a competition.  If they’re going to pick up some worms, it will be at a competition.
  • If they seem to lose weight at a competition then be sure to have your veterinarian look at them and advise a plan to keep their weight up.  A lot of times weight loss is related to a teeth problem, so make sure your veterinarian checks them.

Joint and leg issues are different in many breeds.  The reason for this is that breeds have different conformations.  For example, Warmbloods are bred to have a combination of elevated movements and an elongated stride. They are uphill in front and have a very powerful lower back and pelvis.

Knowing your breed and what its strengths and weaknesses are will help you develop a conditioning plan for Keeping Your Driving Horse In Shape.

Building a team of professionals ahead of the competition season will make your life much easier.  This team will be your go-to person if and when there is an issue.  Your team should include your veterinarian, farrier, chiropractor, massage therapist, acupuncture, and bodyworks therapist. So put your team together and use them when needed and as always we hope we will never need them in an emergency!

Always evaluate your horse constantly so you can avoid a problem before it becomes serious!