Coronavirus: The importance of keeping horses in shape during lockdown

If horses at riding schools and race courses are left idle during this down time forced by the outbreak of the coronavirus, it can have disastrous consequences.

Horses need to be exercised regularly and put on an appropriate diet to keep them in good condition during such times.   -  REUTERS

Special care needs to be provided to keep horses in good health during this down time forced by the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. If horses at riding schools and race courses are left idle, it can have disastrous consequences.

The large Embassy International Riding School (EIRS) campus in Bengaluru houses around 100 horses. A reduced staff, who stay at EIRS, care for the horses. This includes EIRS Director Silva Storai, who is quite happy to have horses for company in this lockdown period. “We have around 10 staff members who are staying at our campus now. People who leave the campus to buy supplies for the horses are screened before they re-enter. We are using the best stable management techniques to take care of the horses.”

As the horses are not too physically active now, diet modifications and regular exercise routines are imperative to prevent the onset of potentially fatal diseases like laminitis and colic. “Horses should be fed less barley and oats, and more fibre and good-quality grass. We have horse walker equipment, which can be set for the ideal speed and intensity. Horses need active walks; it should not be a lazy stroll. Horses should be treated like world-class athletes," Silva said.

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With commercial riding activity suspended across the country, institutes like EIRS are facing financial losses. While this is a big burden to bear, there can be no compromise when it comes to safeguarding the health of these prized horses, Silva explained.

Noted veterinarian and equine specialist Hasnain Mirza tends to race horses at the Bangalore Turf Club here. “The race horses at BTC are healthy. They are being exercised regularly. Horses cannot be cooped up indoors all day long. They need two walks per day. But you should not do any high-intensity training, as there are no races to prepare for in the foreseeable future. If you train a horse to peak fitness when there is no race coming up, it can be detrimental to their long-term health,” Hasnain said.

Hasnain, the father of equestrian and 2018 Asian Games double silver medalist Fouaad Mirza, added that horses need a minimum of two months to become race-ready. “But if you don’t keep the horses ticking along in this lockdown period with low-intensity exercise and rationed diet, it can take six months to make them race-ready,” Hasnain said.

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