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Easy street

by Rebecca Colnar, Article donated by the mane points horse resource center.

Marcia Kulak's horses are trained to compete at the international level of three-day eventing. They may be machine-like when it comes to winning medals, but they're not machines.

"Immediately after the competition, they get a few light days," the rider and trainer says. "After that, I ride them easily for five or six days each week for about two weeks. Then I'll continue hacking--not doing any real work, but keeping them moving," Kulak advises.

"Keep horses moving" is her mantra, and as much turnout as possible is ideal for the freshening horse. Sometimes. "You need to keep in mind that you don't want to stress the horse," Kulak cautions. "If the weather isn't conducive to all-day turnout--say there is searing heat and lots of flies--you might keep him in during the hot afternoons.

"I don't think it's a service for horses to be beating the heat and the flies. That goes for being turned out when it's excessively wet, cold and windy. If you're giving them a break, they need a place that's comfortable and peaceful. Turnout is good when it's a positive experience for horses," Kulak says.

The New York and Florida resident says it's best to combine turnout with riding. "Vacation to a horse can mean a modified training regime and schedule. Standing in a stall day after day is not a vacation to a horse. Do anything you can to minimize the stress in their lives, but maximize their need for freedom to roll, buck and play. That improves their physical and mental outlook on life. It's a very pleasant break for a horse."

Minimize the amount of training you do. Walk on a loose rein in a pleasant countryside with good footing, Kulak says. But don't get carried away with time off. "I certainly am not a believer in giving a sound horse two or three months off at a time," she explains.

Feed a higher-quality forage and less concentrate or grain during vacation, Kulak counsels. "High-quality hay is very important, with a minimal amount of grain added for that horse's body type and work level.

"If you are reducing the amount of output from a horse, that horse should be on pasture more, and the feed adjusted accordingly. Gradually reduce grain over a week," she says.

Another point Kulak stresses is that good-quality hay reduces the boredom factor of a stalled horse.

"We like to have something in front of horses all the time. If you're in a situation where horses can have forage or hay 24-hours a day, that's very important. Horses were meant to be eating 22 hours a day. We try to make them conform to our lifestyle and schedules, and that's not really ideal," she says.

Resting a horse also means you still play close attention to equine maintenance, including grooming and shoeing. Regular deworming must be continued, as well as proper dental care.

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