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MARCH/APRIL 2014

The Paisley Pony

Enhancing Your Dressage Ponies Muscle Development Part 1 – The Equine Conditioning Center By Audrey Maschue

The comparison is often made between dressage horses or ponies and body builders, although, I’d like to think dressage athletes are more like body building ballerina’s! Either way, the comparison does underscore the need for conscientious muscle building for dressage athletes. Achieving the needed muscle using only a 20 X 60 meter arena is often very difficult if not impossible. Luckily there are some great ways to supplement and enhance your normal dressage workout. One way is by visiting a Conditioning Center or Rehab Center! Being close to one of the mecca’s for dressage training and showing, provides me a great luxury of having access to innovative and advanced equine tools. One of which is the Equine Condition Center located in the heart of Wellington, FL. After a tour of the facility, I couldn’t wait to bring my ponies over to the center! They have a regular (no water) treadmill which can be set on an incline, as to simulate hill work, which is another fantastic way to help develop a dressage ponies muscles. This is a very popular choice with many top trainers! The Center also boasts a salt water spa to cool horses and ponies legs, and with the added salt it acts like a poultice to draw out inflammation. But the piece of equipment I was most excited about was the Aqua Treadmill- specifically for the purpose of muscle building for the dressage pony. Because Florida is notorious for the very flat sandy terrain, it can be very hard to work outside the arena in a way that actually develops added muscling. The Aqua Treadmill can be a great alternative! The machine itself is very sturdy, with many safety features that put my mind at ease when I brought my 2 boys over for a try! The first session is mostly a training session, where the pony is walked through the machine, then stood inside and closed in. First the pony is acclimated to the treadmill, without any water. Once the pony is walking confidently on the treadmill, slowly they add a little water, again waiting for the pony to show confidence and a smooth stride. It is very important

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to have good knowledgeable handlers! Although, it seems uncommon to have real difficulty with the horses and ponies, I can see where having the right people handling your pony is key to the success of each session. Of course, the girls at the Conditioning Center were great and really handled my boys with skill! During the first session, the water is only up to the ponies’ fetlocks, and the timer is set for five minutes. The water is then drained, and the pony continues to walk on the treadmill for several minutes – like a cool down. The second session, the water height is extended up to the knee, again for five minutes, and the third session, up to the ponies’ belly. After that, the time can be lengthened gradually by a few minutes each session. The advantages of an aqua treadmill really are numerous, and would require several pages to go in depth on them all, instead I will cover some of the specific ways I feel they help dressage ponies! Firstly, the water level can be completely customized for each horse to target specific muscles, or desired results. For a stretching and loosening effect, the higher water levels will work best. This is great for developing a loose swinging pony. They really do feel like they have just gone to a yoga class! To build strength for a quick active hind leg, a lower level might be better. A great way to help develop the muscles needed for an active piaffe. Whichever water height you choose, you can also be assured the pony stays working “over it’s back” and does not become inverted because they are trying to keep their head up above the water which can be the case, while swimming, or using in inground treadmill, where the height of the water is not easily adjustable. This is VERY important for a dressage pony. Another benefit is the added buoyancy for less stress on the ponies joints, which could be particularly important if your pony

March/April 2014  
March/April 2014  

Paisley Pony Magazine

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