Hacking! It’s so healthy for their mind (especially for a stall kept horse who wasn’t exercised often for years, how anyone can keep an animal like that is beyond me) and if you an find some good hills and varied terrain, her topline will improve in no time Even if you have to trailer to trails it’s well worth doing.
Building a topline takes some time. To properly do it takes steady, consistent riding for 9 to 12 months. Friesians are slow to build muscle and quick to lose it. Start out slow in asking for roundness, and build the muscle necessary to make the sessions longer. Hacking out and hills are great when the weather permits. Lunging work also helps. Good luck with your Friesian! They really are fun to work with! Most have a very good work ethic and love to have a job.
I had gotten a horse, a young stallion, that was stall kept for almost a year. He had no muscle, and mentally was a wreck. He had no turnout for months at a time. I had a vet look at him, before starting any work. The vets advice was it could take 12-18 months before he would rebuild the muscle and the strength. It’s not just the top line, it’s the tendons and ligaments as well. A slow and steady, regular program would be best. Lots of turnout, lots of walking undersaddle, and time. I also agree with lunge line work to help build muscle. Good luck!
Been through it w/ mare after colic surgery and yes it takes a while. You are on the right track working w/ trainer for starters. In my case vet orders were to start with every other day for first 10 days. We would walk for 5 minutes, trot for a minute, started at 20 minutes. built up the trot time, reduce the walk time and gradually extended length of time over all during next 4-6 weeks. Added in canter around week 3 - just a little at a time. Hills are great. Cavalettis/ground poles are great.
Regarding lunging, others may have different opinion, but I would limit that - out of shape out of balance, it may be harder for her than straight lines, broader turns. When she’s walking, make her march - like she has a purpose. My mare liked to amble around, it did not help her fitness, lol.
Make sure the horse is free and flexible at the poll and in the neck. I have one who struggles with this, and the last time my vet sedated him to do his teeth, when she finished and was checking that the jaw moved freely from side to side, she commented how loose he was in his poll when he was sedated. She was basically gently wiggling his head in a snake-like movement. The next day when I rode him, I was absolutely gobsmacked how better he was through his back. The little thing the vet did must have helped something in his poll let loose, which really does free the rest of the topline.
Gross generalization, but Fresians sometimes get ridden in that upright frame that comes somewhat naturally to them, but it has to wreck havoc with their poll and topline if that carriage isn’t developed properly. My little horse, though not a Fresian, tends to “package” himself if I go anywhere near the contact before he’s really ready to carry it. With him, it is both mental and physical.
Thank you guys! Even though physically, she’s a wreck, mentally she is wonderful! A little spooky about dogs barking and barn doors swinging but she’s very willing! I will be lunging and riding her very slowly to begin with and trying to get her in a longer and lower frame. Where I am, there are very few hills. So I will be hacking indoors, and outdoors, using ground poles as well. Any other advice is lovely! she will also be placed on a weight supplement. Thanks again!
Bringing back to shape a horse of that age that has never been in training before will be difficult, and will take a long time.
A vet check should be done and regular checking would be good. Tendons and ligaments that never really worked will be more prone to injury. It would not be surprising that she’ll need joint injections or would benefit from adequan/legend.
It is not like bringing up a youngster, think more like an unfit 50yrs old that never been in shape and wants to start jogging and doing small marathons… many things to consider, not just the overall shape (heart, lungs, arthritis, cholesterol…) Complete life style change and unfortunately, it is not for everyone.
Also, regarding the “weight” supplement, I would wait a bit. You don’t want your mare to get fatter if she’s not physically (muscle/tendon/ligaments strenght) ready to support it. I keep my older gelding more on the lean side (as per the vet) because it is less stressfull for his joints as he has mild arthritis in one fetlock.
I agree about longeing. My mom’s Friesian cross was out of shape and didn’t know how to carry herself, and longeing in a cavesson (no side reins) was key for her. Side reins would have encouraged her natural tendency to lean, and also her natural tendency to have a shorter neck. Using just the cavesson I could get first just flexion in, then control her whole body and get bend so she learned to step under with her inside hind and swing her back. She tends to take about a month of very consistent longeing and walk/trot work under saddle before she’s fit enough to canter - but her natural canter is the single worst lateral canter I have ever seen until she gets fit enough, then she has a nice canter with a ton of suspension. It just takes a lot more fitness to get there.
The one thing I found with her and other Friesians and Friesian crosses I’ve been around is that once they learn about lengthening their necks and letting their backs swing, they are really good about consistently allowing that to happen. It feels good, and they are naturally going to tend toward anything which feels good.
Have fun! Also realize the topline may not be as bad as you think, as many Friesians do have a lower back in their conformation.
Like any horse that has done nothing for so long - take it slowly and don’t expect topline to reappear quickly. If you have access to a eurocizer, put the horse on that every day. I personally think lunging is VERY hard on horses, all those circles, so be careful not to overdo it there. Long lining, lots of walking, lots of transitions, and just realize it is like any horse or person that has not exercised for a long time.
Nice thing about Friesians, they tend to have great brains!
Do be very careful about what you are feeding your Friesian. As a breed they tend to have problems processing sugar. So feed a low carb grain. Many choices out there now. The Fenway Foundation has a website that has a TON of information on the Friesians and their dietary needs. Check it out.
I agree on the damage that can be done lunging - do it when you can’t ride, or when you’re trying to introduce something that is best tried without weight adding to the horses ability to do the movement. Everything you can do in the saddle can be done longlining.
MysticOakRanch has lots of good experience training Friesians and Friesian crosses. You might want to PM her for more advice.
You’re welcome to PM me, but I’m no trainer and would not advise beyond things in general.
^True statement about feeds, too.
I believe my mom’s mare has an alfalfa allergy, not just sensitivity to sugar, as she appeared to flat out hallucinate when eating alfalfa! This horse doesn’t voluntarily break a walk most of the time, but if left alone in a round pen she would start a panicked whinnying run around the pen as if monsters were after her. It didn’t take us too long to figure out just removing the alfalfa made an instant change, but in her case I believe that was an allergy rather than just sugar sensitivity. She can get fat on air, so it’s not really a problem cutting back anyway…
Walk, just walk for about a month. I would treat this horse like a rehab horse that has weak tendons/ligaments and no cardio fitness, especially if she didn’t get any turnout previously.
Honestly, for the first month I wouldn’t even involve the trainer or have lessons if you can safely get on and go for an hour long walk. In the arena, wander around outside, hand walk, long line, etc.
I wouldn’t trot more than a minute or two for at least 2-3 weeks, more like start trotting week 5. Towards the end of 3 weeks you could start with the trainer in some in-hand work and long lining on circles.
I would not lunge on a circle faster than a walk until you are trotting around the whole arena for several minutes each direction.
I don’t know where you are located and if this is a concern for you this time of year, but I have known several Friesians that are heat-intolerant or poor sweaters. With this breed, I would very carefully watch respiration during work/riding and take a break any time respiration is elevated, just in case she can’t cool herself down well.
Make sure you check her for Cushings. Her age and lack of muscle could point to a Cushings issue…Just rule it out if nothing else.