Michael Jung and Sam: follow the superstars!
How to build and maintain the career of a horse for a long time?
German eventing superstar Michael Jung and his mythic top horse Sam won the Badminton Horse Trials 2016 and with this victory Jung claimed the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing for winning Kentucky (Fisherrocana), Burghley (Sam) and Badminton in succession. The German champions enters definitively the Olympus of Eventing and with him his top horse Sam. Besides all the prestigious victories in their carreer, Michael Jung and Sam were individual World Champions in Lexington 2010, individual and team European Champions Luhmuehlen 2011, individual and team Olympic Champions in London 2012!
An unbelievable career for the 16-year-old La Biosthetique Sam FBW! Besides the athletic, technical and competitive skills, how to get and maintain such a good shape? The answer is as long as the horse's career is long! But we can summarize it in some fundamental parameters, in the attention to every detail: welfare of horses, stable management, fitness and training forward plannings, competions and rest periods.
First of all we must respect natural life and needs of horses. Free movement in green paddock everyday, walkings in the countryside, good feeding, careful grooming. The success and well-being of a horse is very much dependent on his stable environment and management, care and recurrent vet checks and the care and expert attentions that he receives from his groom. A basic fitting programme and a basic training programme should be carefully planned.
The fitting programme varies according to the competioins for which the horse is being prepared, even if many points can be applied to all disciplines. It’s important to have a fitness programme. This should be worked out in advance of the main competion of the season. There may be interim competitions along the way. One of the most common causes of breakdown in horses is not being fit enough for the task. The programme needs to be sufficiently flexible to cope with any minor problems that might arise and it is advisable to keep notes, and monitor the level of fitness and state of training. Always we have to allow enough time. It takes at least six weeks for any significant development.
It’s important to ensure that horses are given plenty of variety in their work. If hacking out, the route should be varied as far as possible. Fitness work should aim to improve the overall performance of the horse throuh correct work and feed. It’s essential to start with a healthy, sound horse. Fitter horse are less liable tu suffer lameness problems. Fatigue is a common cause of breakdown. Attention must be put in the type of terrain. For example, sands can be very heavy when raining a lot, artificial surfaces often slide under the horse, grass may be uneven or slippery.
Strenuous work should absolutely not be undertaken the day before or the day after a competitions or fast work. Fast work must be supported by rest periods, to hallow the heart rate to return to normal. If the horse is balanced he will suffer less strain; therefore training should be over a large area and should avoid sharp turns. Fast work must not be in sudden bursts, as this puts strain on tendons and lungs. Horses must be well warmed up before starting any work, and speed should be decreased gradually to avoid strain to the limbs.
In fittening work, go faster uphill to increase length of stride. Take it easy downhill. In a competition, allow the horse to flow on downhill. Do not put on pressure uphill. After fast work the horse should be kept walking to allow the build-up of lactic acid in the muscles to disperse.
In bad weather during the winter and with hard ground during the summer, the fitness shold be done in a school but with attention to the turns and changes of directions.
Check the horse’s legs soon after works and some hours later is basic, to ensure that any signs of strain, if they should be, are noted in time. It’s also very important to check the diet of the horse and improve or reduce it according to the needs. It’s very important to feed the horse according to the work he is doing and to his type, character and conformation. Any change in the horse’s attitude to work, appetite or stable habits may be a sign of stress. We must recognize it as soon as possible and change the planning in order to give rest and relax to the horse. A blood test should be done when horse is well and healthy so that a comparison may be made if problems arise.
It’s very important to remember that the rider should also be fit! A basic training programme should be forward planned. Than, a training programme, a specialization, should be planned for every discipline. For example, eventing training should be divided in dressage, jumping, cross-country sessions and relaxing and rests sessions. Relaxing and rests sessions should be carefully planned for each discipline.
Love for horses, wisdom, patience and time are, first of all, the ‘ingredients’ of a real horseman and champion!