Weanling Horses Need Individually Designed Exercise Programs
by Donald Stotts
STILLWATER--Lack of proper exercise can be as debilitating for a four-legged equine as a two-legged human, especially for weanling horses.
The objective is to plan type, intensity and frequency of exercise to stimulate the growth of muscle and bone without overexerting the young horse's ability to respond positively.
"Too much of the wrong type of exercise performed too frequently will cause the weanling's system to fail," said Dave Freeman, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service equine specialist.
Physical symptoms of poorly-conceived exercise programs are bone and joint stress problems.
Examples of commonly-used exercise methods are continual free-access, time turn-outs with other weanlings, short duration pen-work and longeing or ponying. Each can be used successfully. However, Freeman said some methods require more careful monitoring than others.
"It's difficult to recommend a level of exercise intensity for all weanlings because of individual differences in how weanlings respond to exercise and variability in environmental effects such as firmness of exercise surfaces," Freeman said.
Most commonly, weanling work at a trot. Regardless, weanlings should be allowed to warm up slowly before being exercised at faster speeds.
Freeman said they also should be given a sufficient "cooling down period" of lower intensity work before being returned to the stall or other housing areas.
Low intensity exercises or ponying weanlings at slow speeds on firm, safe surfaces reduce the chance for overexertion. Hard surfaces and fast speeds will put more stress on bones.
"This can have a positive effect if it stimulates bone growth. But it can be harmful if too much concussive force on legs and joints is produced for too long a period of time," Freeman said.
Length of a single exercise session also may be more important than some managers realize, he said. Breakdown of bone may be caused more by over-extending the length of a single workout rather than the intensity of the workout. As such, it is advisable to split single workouts into twice-a-day routines to promote appetite and healthy growth, Freeman said.
Short bouts of moderately intense exercise performed several times a day, in contrast to one long bout of less intense exercise, have been shown to develop healthy bone growth.
Above all, horse managers must be able to adapt programs to meet the needs of individual animals. Freeman said weanlings are more individualistic than most classes of horses in how they respond to different types of exercise.
"The successful horse manager knows what is normal for each weanling, recognizes the need to adjust exercise levels and is quick to detect minor indications that may signal the initial onset of problems such as leg growth disorders," Freeman said.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Oklahoma State University for allowing us to provide you with this information.
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