Strategic Layoffs

Many equestrian sports are seasonal, with a competition season alternating with an off season. Even in sports that continue year-round, most trainers schedule a break from competition, which gives the horse a chance to recover mentally and

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Many equestrian sports are seasonal, with a competition season alternating with an off season. Even in sports that continue year-round, most trainers schedule a break from competition, which gives the horse a chance to recover mentally and physically from the stress of traveling and competing. Consequently, long-term conditioning plans are based on including this down time.


Benefits of Deconditioning


At the end of the competition season, the horse benefits from “active rest,” which involves riding or driving for pleasure two or three times a week to preserve the strength and suppleness of musculoskeletal tissues, while allowing a slight reduction in cardiovascular fitness. If a baseline level of fitness is maintained with a reduced work schedule, reconditioning proceeds much more rapidly the following season. It is not recommended that horses be let down completely, except during recuperation from injury, because large oscillations in fitness are detrimental to long-term soundness. In older horses, it is very important to maintain fitness in the off season because reconditioning takes longer as the horse ages

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Hilary M. Clayton, BVMS, PhD, Dipl. ACVSMR, FRCVS, is a veterinarian, researcher and horsewoman. For more than 40 years she has performed innovative research in the areas of locomotor biomechanics, lameness, rehabilitation, conditioning programs for equine athletes, and the interaction between rider, tack, and horse. She has published seven books and more than 200 scientific articles on these topics. Clayton served as the Mary Anne McPhail Dressage Chair in Equine Sports Medicine at Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine from 1997 until she retired from academia in 2014. She continues to perform collaborative research with colleagues in universities around the world. Clayton is a charter diplomate and past president of the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation. She is an Honorary Fellow of the International Society for Equitation Science and has been inducted into the International Equine Veterinarians Hall of Fame, the Midwest Dressage Association Hall of Fame, and the Saskatoon Sports Hall of Fame. She is a lifelong rider and has competed in many equestrian sports, most recently focusing on dressage in which she trains through the Grand Prix level and has earned U.S. Dressage Federation bronze, silver, and gold medals.

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