How much jumping is too much?
This may not pertain to all Dressage riders, however many of them enjoy cross-training to change up their daily routine. Whether you are looking to cross-train, or you are an eventer or jumper, you must be careful to save your horse’s legs when jumping. Each horse only has a certain number of jumps in his life, and once that number is passed, there’s no going back.
In general, there is no need to jump a horse more than twice a week at height (the height the jumps are at for a competition you would attend). In fact, many Grand Prix jumpers only jump at height once a week. There are plenty of gridwork exercises you can do at a low height that will improve your and your horse’s technique, and the low height will not be so hard on your horse’s legs.
Jumping stresses the tendons and ligaments in the legs, and just like any athlete, horses can injure themselves because of this stress. The higher the jumps, the more stress is placed on the legs during takeoff and landing. The repetitive motion of jumping and landing can lead to minor tears in the legs, which could affect the horse in the future, and this is without considering any major injuries.
A body can only last so long, whether it be a horse, or a person. A football player cannot play forever because the joints, tendons, and ligaments can only withstand so much stress. Horses are no different; every time they jump, more stress is put on the legs, and eventually they won’t hold up.
When jumping, stress is placed on the hooves as well, and although the hooves can handle a lot of force (they hold up your thousand pound animal), the jarring force they endure on landing takes a toll. The coffin joint disperses the force as the horse lands. The ligaments and the deep digital flexor tendon act like springs-expanding and contracting- to support the coffin joint. The suspensory ligament supports the ankle (which in turn supports the hooves), and is prone to tearing. A rider must keep in mind the breed of their horse as well. A lightweight horse, such as a thoroughbred, can most likely withstand jumping longer than a draft-cross because at a lighter weight, less force is exerted on the hooves upon landing.
Typically jumping injuries occur over time; smaller injuries build up until they reach a tipping point, and then the horse is suddenly lame. Small tears of the fibers in the ligaments don’t have time to heal when the horse is jumped several times a week, and eventually the fiber tears lead to a true tear. Joints are prone to injuries as well because of the inflammation build up brought on by normal riding. The fluid in the joints begins to disappear, and the cartilage is degraded so that there is no protection around the joints, and bone is grinding against bone. At this point, many people resort to injections to relieve pain as the joints degenerate. Corticosteroids reduce inflammation, and can control damage, although it cannot undo the damage.
There is no reason to avoid all jumping, but riders must be mindful of the consequences of jumping too much. Be on the watch for signs of problems in the legs, and work hard to keep your athlete sound and most importantly, happy.