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TRAINER'S TIP:  Spring 2015

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Improving Body Condition in Young, Off the Track or Imported European Horses - by Liz Millikin


About Liz Millikin:

Liz, of Millwood Va. USA, an International 3 Day Event rider, competitor and instructor is known for selling top quality horses for all levels and disciplines from international to pleasure riding. Liz has the unique ability to identify excellent conformation in the horse and to train and prepare young horses to sell for sport. Her gift in pairing horse and rider is evident in the success of those who have purchased horses from her. Her horses have been sold to several Olympians and have competed in both international and World Equestrian Games competitions as well as in national and local competition and for pleasure riding. Liz may be contacted at emillikin@verizon.net

Lizís Tip:

Whether you have just purchased a young thoroughbred off of the race track, or imported a young warmblood from Europe, the details to improve and support body condition for a successful transition to a new life are basically the same. The improvement is really in the details of total care. Both types of horses coming off a lifetime of racing, or coming from a breeder out of Europe are faced with similar issues when confronted with a new discipline and life. I find these horses need the time to acclimate to their new setting. Many times I have seen them fast tracked into a new discipline without the appropriate time and foundation afforded them for a safe and successful future. When I describe fast tracked, I mean the horses are ridden the day of or the next day, popped over fences and ridden on the flat far too soon to support their body's condition and general health.


Turning them out in a field to relax or let down on grass is important. Weight is a very big issue for many of the ex race horses. I typically do not ride them for a period of at least 30 days. They can be very skinny and tight when they come off of the track. Often their teeth need to get done, stomach and gastro intestinal issues are prevalent. Paying attention to detail, especially quality nutrition and addressing proper gut support with a vet. Typically the ex race horses has a body score of a 4. Optimal body score is a 6. They appear quite weak, unstable, sometimes a bag of bones and in poor general health. Their feet need to be balanced through proper shoeing.

Warmbloods coming over from Eurpoe have similar issues. The transition from Europe to the US seems to be a shock to their entire systems. When they come over in the spring, they have to get used to the weeds, different grasses, flies, fly spray. They must get used to a change in water, air, and language. They get vaccinated. They are sprayed with fly spray which they may not be used to. They usually donít understand wash stalls, sometimes cross ties. Let them be horses. Put them in a field for at least 10 days to acclimate without doing much with them except brining them in and out of the barn and cleaning feet etc.

I do not ride them for the first 10 days.. Allow them to establish a trusting relationship with you. Everything is foreign to them.

I recommend we respectfully give them time to transition to their new world. As they trust and move forward by addressing all of the above, their world will broaden and they will accept and understand their new role.

I usually start to ride them about 2 weeks after they have arrived and I have given the time to acclimate and improve their body condition. Many of them go through tremendous growth spurts. Being aware of the growth spurts during this transition prevents injury as well. I consult with Jo-Ann Wilson to evaluate muscle tightness and weakness so she may give me pointers and suggestions that I carry through to my training.

Time is money, but it is money well spent when you give them the time and respectfully address all the areas of these horseís lives so they may transition successfully to their new life.



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