How To Prep A Horse - A Behind-The-Scenes Look at a UGA Equestrian Meet
Chiropractic appointments must be kept and ankles taped prior to an equestrian meet.
Then the riders can begin preparing themselves.
The four-legged athletes that make up half of an equestrian team’s roster require just as much attention as the two-legged ones, as No. 7 Georgia well knows.
UGA (7-3, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) hosts the No. 3 Auburn Tigers (7-2, 2-1) on Saturday at the UGA Equestrian Complex in Bishop. As the riders, coaches and barn managers equipped themselves and the arena for the reigning National Collegiate Equestrian Association overall champions, they also prepared the horses.
The team owns 57 horses that are used for both competition and practice. However, equestrian teams do not find out what horses will be competing until the day of the meet. The NCEA additionally mandates that the host university share their horses with the visiting team.
The horses need to be rested, fed and bathed prior to meets. They also have some human-like basic athletic needs.
“We ice the legs and tape the ankles of the jumping horses to prevent swelling just like basketball players do,” said junior hunt seat rider Megan Southam. “They also wear hoof boots, which act like a soccer player’s shin guards to protect them while they’re jumping or cantering.”
Some of the horses are seen by a chiropractor days before the meet. Riding equipment or certain physical activity may cause stiffness in the spine of a horse.
Equine chiropractors adjust the spine by hand through a quick, short thrust on a specific joint. If a horse is sore from an adjustment, then it’s taken for a long walk to loosen up its muscles.
Horses also are groomed for competition.
“We soap them up, hose them down and make sure their coats are clipped on the day before a meet,” said junior hunt seat rider Kylee Arbuckle. “We come out on the morning of and braid their manes really just for looks.”
Pomp and circumstance surround competitions. But just like humans, the horses aren’t always in the mood.
“They can wake up on the wrong side of the bed like anyone else,” said Arbuckle. “It might be a completely different horse than you rode the day before but that’s part of what makes our sport so interesting and challenging.”
Competition horses can also have the same nervous energy that athletes possess prior to their performances.
“Paris, one of our favorite horses to compete with, has the most personality when it comes to seeing new things,” said Southam. “She always gets excited when she sees the flowers in the arena and hears the music.”
Some horses aren’t phased at all when the environment around them changes. The coaches and riders prefer this because the horses stop listening to instruction and do their own thing when they’re excited.
Whenever that happens, the horses go through a process called longeing. Longeing involves tying the horse to a long rope and letting them walk off their energy.
“It’s like putting a really hyper person on a treadmill for a little while to calm them down,” said Southam.
Once their exteriors are taken care of, then it’s time for the basic necessities.
“Horses don’t need as much sleep as we do but they definitely eat a lot more,” said Bill Dover, who is one of the UGA team’s four facility foremen.
The foremen primarily tend to the barns, pastures and arenas but they also feed the horses.
“We probably average six pounds of grain and 15 pounds of hay on a daily basis,” said Dover.
In addition to hay, the horses also love treats in the form of carrots and peppermints.
“Horses love peppermints more than carrots,” said UGA head coach Meghan Boenig.“They will listen to the crinkling of the cellophane wrapper over anything else.”
The most challenging part of preparing the horses for a meet is making sure they’re always comfortable. The horse’s feelings and the rider’s expectations need to be balanced.
“Schooling can be difficult because the riders have seen the best days of the horses in practice so they strive to re-create that on show day,” said Boenig. “There’s anticipation of what you believe the horse should be and riding what you expect out of the animal rather than what it’s giving you.”
The horses have different ways of expressing when they’re not comfortable.
“If you put your leg on too hard then the horse might kick out at your legs to say ‘don’t do that to me,’” said Southam.
Similarly, the horses will also communicate when they’re pleased.
“Some horses will flip their lips and do a smile when you give them a peppermint,” said Boenig.
Coach Boenig believes the key to a happy horse that is prepared for competition ultimately comes down to keeping it in its comfort zone.
“As much as we can incorporate a routine for them, that’s what we want to do.”
Most humans can relate or at least understand this.
“They’re certainly creatures of comfort and what they’re comfortable with are things they see every day.”