How often do you school your older packers over fences? I’m trying to be gentle with my older guy, so his current training schedule is two hacks with hills and two dressage schools a week. I might hop him over the odd log or ditch on hacks but I don’t generally school over fences since he is such an old pro. He’s got the standard old guy achy joints, managed well with monthly Pentosan and annual hock injections. I’ve taken him to a few 2’9"-3" jumping clinics and shows on this schedule (once every 6-8 weeks) and he jumps well, is excited about it even, but does seem to get tired toward the end of an hour lesson. Not enough to take rails or anything, but I can feel that he is fatigued. Do you think that this is the right approach or should I be throwing a small jump school in here and there if I expect him to do clinics or shows?
Every horse is an individual, so I try not to look at their age as a metric but instead, look at their performance the following day[s] after a trying event like a show or clinic. Shows are a lot of work, but I think how they recover after a show is much more telling than how they performed at the show.
I don’t give them the day after a show off. I ride them in a light school in the ring and see how they feel.
If they feel good, what I asked of them at the show or clinic was appropriate and they don’t need to slow down. They’ll get the next day off.
If they feel stiff or tired, what I asked was inappropriate for them at that stage in their life, and they need to slow down. They’ll get a week off while I figure out how to tweak my schedule to be more appropriate.
If they still feel stiff or tired two days after the show, it’s definitely time to step down to something less strenuous.
Most packers are honest and will do whatever you ask without complaint. It’s really more about stepping back from the situation and realistically gauging how they feel after a show. If the horse gets an abscess right after every big event, or comes out sore and lugging after a clinic, that’s your sign to reassess.
As far as the schooling program for an older horse, I view an older packer as a horse with nothing to prove: he knows his job, has done it a long time, and doesn’t need to be schooled over fences much to improve his skill set. What I work on instead is making sure they maintain good fitness and body condition to be able to jump: trot sets on hacks and forward, light schools on the flat to keep them sharp and in shape. Jumping can be done once or twice a week if the horse always feels good the day after a jump school.
What @beowulf said. If they’re sore/tired/off after a show or clinic, that’s a sign to back off.
Specifically though, jumping over anything substantial requires a different set of muscles than puttering around, so I try to keep the old pros fit with exercises that work those muscles - poles and cavaletti, hills, lateral work, some gymnastics occasionally. No need to jump them all the time but you definitely want to make sure they have the muscles and balance to do the job when you do ask.
Listen to your horse, you seem to know him well and he will tell you (quietly) when he needs to step down!
I jump mine 2x a week. Any less and i feel like he doesn’t have the fitness to jump a full course. I usually have one day where I jump small stuff, like 18 inches to 2 ft, and then the second jump school I do whatever height he’s competing at. I keep them short. I may jump an 18 inch warm up jump twice, and then jump the full course of 10 jumps once and be done.
Alternatively you could incorporate one jump day a week and one day with a good 5 minutes straight of canter work. Actually time yourself. If you have nice trails or fields around you, you can go out, warm up, set a timer for 5 minutes and canter that whole time.
We recently retired our older packer from jumping, it was getting to be too much for him and a lameness vet concurred that we would probably be risking his hind suspensories if we pushed him.
Prior to that he was flatting 2x/wk, a day of poles or cavaletti’s, and a jumping lesson.
Be conscious of how much effort the horse seems to expend and how accurate the rider is. A super accurate rider makes things easier for the horse. If the rider is frequently getting long or deep spots to the jump it will be more work.
I would personally include some easy stretchy flat days in the ring to keep soreness and stiffness at bay.
As an old(er) person, I think you are making a mistake not keeping jumping as part of his regular routine. As we age, we don’t keep muscles as well/long, so even though your horse knows what to do, and has the muscle memory to do it well, he probably isn’t keeping the needed muscle tone to be the occasional weekend jumping warrior. I think you need to regularly work the muscles you expect him to use, even if it is just 10 jumps twice a week.
I jump my guy (26 year old) once a week if the footing permits (no indoor at my barn) and he’s ridden about 5 - 6 days a week. I mix up his work, flat and hacks out around the barn/back field. I don’t jump big fences with him but then again even when I was competing him training level and prelim level eventing I kept the fences small for the most part. He still enjoys jumping, keeps him happy. I have a Pivo so I can record my rides and I’m always looking at them and how he’s going both on the flat and when I’m schooling him over fences.
Thank you for the thoughts and advice, everyone. I’m inclined to agree that he might handle the weekend jumping better if I do some regular, but small jump schools. I popped him over about eight two foot fences over the weekend, which he enjoyed, and he felt well and eager to go again the next day. I figure we can keep on jumping if he can handle that once a week. If he starts to struggle with easy weekly jump schools or has a hard time recovering from more intense jumping weekends then I’ll know it is time to retire him from jumping. He is fairly fit, overall, from regular hill work and trot and canter sets on hacks. He’s always been on the inflexible side, so stretching and bending are part of his warm up and cool down on every ride. He just loves jumping (mostly just tolerates dressage in a workmanlike way) and I want to keep it a part of our rides for as long as he’s able to do it comfortably.