Planning for Your Horse's Success During Show Season

Proactive planning and care can translate to show season success

To be successful in any arena, horses must be at their best on competition day. For many owners and trainers, that means maintaining a horse’s peak levels of fitness and performance through an entire show season, which can span several months to a year.

It’s not always an easy task, and the stakes can be high: Lameness or long spells of unexplained poor performance can not only keep a horse from winning but end your show season prematurely. Whether you are chasing points, paychecks, or year-end awards, three top sports medicine veterinarians say the best way to stay competitive is by developing a proactive approach to managing every aspect of your horse’s health and ­soundness.

Plan Your Season for Success and Rest

For Duncan Peters, DVM, Dipl. ACVSMR, and Lori Bidwell, DVM, Dipl. ACVAA, CVA, proactive management starts with developing a realistic show schedule. Peters and Bidwell, who founded and co-own East-West Equine Sports Medicine, based in Lexington, Kentucky, and Thermal, California, frequent some of the largest hunter-jumper circuits in the country as both veterinarians and competitors.

“The key is making a plan for the year,” says Bidwell, who remembers when showing was a summertime sport that provided ample time for horses to have the winter off. For serious competitors those days are long gone, but the horse’s need for time off is as important as ever. “I recommend people make a schedule for the year that allows for the horse to have some downtime.”

Planning for Your Horse's Success During Show Season

For Ben Espy, DVM, Dipl. ACT, CVA, of San Antonio, Texas, that downtime includes letting a horse be a horse. Espy travels the professional rodeo circuit providing veterinary care for horses that compete in events such as tie-down roping, team roping, steer roping, barrel racing, and pole bending, as well as bucking horses and pickup horses. Even the best athletes in the world, he says, can benefit from a vacation.

“It’s very self-serving to give horses time off,” says Espy, who recommends horses get 30 to 60 days off every year. “I think turnout, rolling in mud, getting dirty—all that stuff—are super valuable not only psychologically but also mechanically with a horse.”

In addition to planning for extended downtime, Bidwell and Espy recommend setting realistic expectations for how much a horse can do during the year. That might mean entering fewer classes on a given day, especially on a veteran horse that doesn’t need the practice, or not showing every day at a long event.

“A lot of people push, push, push, push, and then the horses get worn down,” Espy says. “Then they get in a tough spot because they get near the end of the year, and the horses are just plain

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