Cool It—Best Post-Show Routines of Top Equestrians
There is no better feeling in the world than walking off the course or out of the ring after a great round of your respective discipline. As much as we want to bask in the moment, our attention must immediately turn to the horse that got you there. Post-show care is extremely important to a horse’s health, which is why this month, we spoke with the industry’s top competitors and asked about their post-show routines for their four-legged partners.
DRESSAGE RIDER LAURA GRAVES
Dressage rider Laura Graves of Plymouth, FL, is known for her extraordinary work in the saddle, currently holding second in the FEI Dressage World Ranking, but she was also her own groom. So when it comes to what to do after some heavy competition in the dressage ring, Laura was our go-to girl.
EQUINE JOURNAL: What does your post-show routine look like?
LAURA GRAVES: Post-show routines are always a bit more intense than the post-home routines. This is usually because the horses have exerted themselves more and are also expected to compete again the next day. So the first step is that the horses are cared for properly pre-show. Post-competition, the first thing [they get], besides a bucket of carrots, is a tube of amino acids; this aids in muscle recovery.
EJ: What are your best tips for cooling down your horse?
LG: We are careful to fully cool down our horses and keep them moving. Even after they are breathing normally, they can easily have a second spurt of heating up, especially in the Florida weather, or muscles can become tight after everything seems fine. Another thing you can do is to offer room temperature water, or Gatorade like [I do with] my horses, which can help them take a deep breath. I also use a heart rate monitor app for my horse, which has been incredibly useful in gauging my horse’s fitness. It allows me to see how high their heart rate is and also when they are down to a proper resting rate again [in real time and wirelessly]. Then there is no guessing!
EJ: How long after a competition do you wait to feed your horse? Do you feed them anything different?
LG: It all depends on how hard they have worked. During competition, we try to feed before. If they have to be fed grain after, we will wait hours—the hotter the horse is and the hotter the weather, the longer we wait! We do always allow the horses [to have] hay.
It is important for horses to stay on the same feed during competition, but we may change the amounts if the horses require more energy. We may also change supplements like electrolytes, B vitamins, or other things to help them keep their energy and aid with recovery.
EJ: How do you prevent sore muscles from developing?
LG: Horses at the elite level are very well cared for. Often acupuncture, massage, laser therapy, magnetic blankets, and other options are helpful. [For riders,] both before and during major competitions, we work with a physiotherapist who specializes in equestrians. He is an integral part of the dressage program these days, as he addresses any tightness and pain but also makes us as symmetrical as we can be for our horses.
EJ: How do you reward your horse for a great show?
LG: Vacation! Because during a show we are pretty constantly working on or around them, it is a nice break for my horses to just see their stall and their field for at least a few days, depending on the upcoming schedule.
EVENTING GROOM COURTNEY CARSON
Eventing enthusiasts will recognize Courtney Carson of Aiken SC, as the groom to eventer Doug Payne, however she also runs and manages his barn full of 27 horses and is a former eventer herself. Knowing what’s what, she was an ideal person to talk post-show strategy.
EJ: What is your go-to post-competition routine?
COURTNEY CARSON: Post-show, my horses usually get a day or two completely off from work or they will just go for a long walk. Following a really big competition they will get three to five weeks off to just hang out in their fields and be horses.
EJ: What are your best cool-down tips?
CC: If it is really hot and the horses are struggling to cool down, I will add rubbing alcohol to a wash bucket and sponge them with that. The alcohol evaporates at a higher temperature than water, so diluting the water with alcohol means that you can sponge, but the liquid will evaporate off the horses faster, helping them dry. Sponging and scraping quickly is another way to help get the water off of the horses so they can dry and cool out faster. You can always also add ice to a bucket of water and use that to cool down with as well. Make sure to hit areas such as between the front legs, between the hind legs, and in their groin area.
EJ: How long after a competition do you wait to feed?
CC: It all depends on the weather and how much the horse has done. I usually just make sure that my horses are completely cooled out before giving them their grain. If they run cross-country pretty late in the day, I may split their dinner into halves and feed half at their normal time and the other half as a late meal.
EJ: Do you feed them anything different than their usual meal?
CC: Not typically. Some horses travel and compete on [ulcer-preventative supplements]. If it is uncharacteristically warm, I may add electrolytes to their grain in order to keep them drinking.
EJ: How do you prevent sore muscles from developing after a show?
CC: A lot of movement. If possible, my horses will come straight home and go out into their fields—even if just for an hour. I try to keep them moving as much as possible when at shows, whether that is Doug walking for longer after work or hand walking and grazing throughout the show.
EJ: Do you use any alternative remedies after a competition?
CC: Our horses are on a routine chiropractic schedule during the competition season, but if we feel the need to add another session we may do so.
EJ: How do you treat your horse for a great show?
CC: I always have a large bucket of peppermints in the barn and on the road with me. I also try and bring something extra sweet, such as apples or carrots, for the horses while they are competing.
SHOW JUMPER KELLI CRUCIOTTI
In the jumper ring, up and coming star Kelli Cruciotti from Elizabeth, CO, and Wellington, FL, has found success in some of the biggest show jumping events in the U.S. and internationally, including winning the $100,000 Sapphire Grand Prix of Devon and placing 16th in her first World Cup Appearance this April in Gothenburg, Sweden. The 21-year-old knows her way around jumps as well as taking care of her horses. She was happy to talk to us about how she and her family-run barn, Serenity Farm, work to keep their horses in tip-top shape post-competition.
EJ: What is your post-show routine?
KELLI CRUCIOTTI: We consider our post-show routine to be one of the most important parts in our program. After the horses finish showing and they have cooled down, we typically put them in their stall to allow them to relax. After that, they are iced for 25-40 minutes depending on the horse. While they are relaxing with the ice, we usually put a magnetic blanket on for around 20-25 minutes. This allows them to continue to relax and enjoy the cool down process. After that is finished, every horse is poulticed, with feet packed, and groomed to take away any sweat marks.
EJ: What are your tips for cooling down a horse?
KC: One of our best cool down tips would be make sure that after you are finished showing that you walk your horses out long enough. Often times we do not walk them long enough, which can cause their muscles to tie up or feel stiff the next day. Depending on the class, you should walk your horse out anywhere from 10-20 minutes.
EJ: How long do you wait to feed your horse after competition?
KC: Typically we wait to give them any type of hay or grain until after they are finished being put away. The icing, poultice, and packing typically takes around an hour, so this gives them time to cool down before eating anything.
EJ: Do you feed them anything different than their routine feed?
KC: Not typically, although [I’m] always a sucker for throwing some apples and other treats in with their grain!
EJ: What do you do to prevent sore muscles from developing?
KC: It’s very important the day after you show to get your horse out and moving. It doesn’t need to be a hard, extensive ride but enough for them to stretch and loosen up. This will prevent sore and tight muscles after a show.
EJ: Do your horses receive any alternative remedies after a competition?
KC: Yes, we have a wonderful body worker who comes and goes over all of the horses before and after they show. She knows them really well, so she can inform us if one is more sore than normal or anything else that is going on.
EJ: How do you reward your horse for a great show?
KC: There are so many ways to reward them after they show! We really find spending quality time putting them away makes them feel very loved and accomplished. Of course they don’t mind the big box of cookies either, but they really enjoy you being around them and rewarding them for a job well done.
SHOW JUMPER BEEZIE MADDEN
Hailing from Cazenovia, NY, is four-time Olympian Beezie Madden. Among her many accolades over the years, most recently Beezie became the first rider to win the $1 Million AIG HITS Grand Prix in all three locations offered in 2019 with Darry Lou at HITS Thermal. Coached by her husband, John Madden, the duo answered together on what they think are the best post-show practices.
EJ: What are your methods for post-competition care?
BEEZIE MADDEN: Our post-show routine starts with the proper pre-competition conditioning to ensure that our horses have the correct level of fitness to compete. After a competition, the horses are walked until they stop blowing, which should only take a few minutes. We keep them moving until they are cool. If they have jumped, we may ice their legs to help prevent inflammation before it starts. We also will wrap their legs using standing wraps if they have jumped. Most importantly, after they are cool, is that they are clean and dry before they are put back into their stalls.
EJ: What are your favorite cool-down tips?
BM: First and foremost, be sure they have the proper level of fitness for the competition and don’t let your horse get too hot. On very hot days, you must decide if you should compete or if it will be too much stress. On warmer days we may use cool water on their poll, and we try to stay out of the sun. On a normal day, cooling down should not take long if your horse is properly conditioned.
EJ: After a competition, do you wait to feed your sport horse?
BM: We wait up to one hour after competition to feed.
EJ: What preventive measures do you use for sore muscles developing after a show?
BM: Keep your horse fit and properly conditioned for the competition—this is the best way to prevent sore muscles.
EJ: Do you do anything special for your horse after a great show?
BM: This may sound a little strange, but besides a few extra carrots in their grain, we treat them exactly like we do every other day, keeping the routine the same because we feel that is very important, and we generally try to leave them alone.
Regardless of if you are a dressage, show jumping, or eventing rider, a proper cool-down and recovery routine after a show is key to keeping your sport horse in peak condition. By ensuring that the horse is properly cooled out after and walked enough, our team of experts agrees that your horse will be better prepared for further competition.