Matt Mills’ Tips for Keeping His Horses Healthy and Happy

Keep your show horse happy, healthy, and excited to do his job with these tips for at-home care from NRHA Professional Matt Mills.

We ask a lot of our show horses; especially in the reining where they spin, stop, and go from fast to slow in the blink of an eye. These horses are no different than any other athlete out there. And they require the same kind of care and attention to ensure they stay at the top of their game. Keeping a horse healthy, happy, and physically fit requires a combination of exercise, nutrition, and a good horse-health team. Read on to learn my tips and tricks for keeping my horses mentally and physically ready for the show pen.

Listen to Matt Mills’ episode of The Ride Podcast.

Getting out of the arena is great for show horses. After a long horse show, it helps them unwind mentally, and also helps them get more comfortable in unfamiliar environments.
Photo courtesy of Matt Mills

Nutrition Matters

My nutrition program is a very large part of how I keep my horses fit and ready to compete. If I want them to perform at the best of their ability, I need to make sure I’m providing them with the feed and supplements they need to do the job. On top of a feeding program that consists of alfalfa cubes, grass hay, and high-quality grain, I also use SmartPak supplements for additional support. These supplements come in custom-made, pre-measured daily doses, and helps my feed room stay organized.

Here are some of my go-to supplements:

  • SmartLytes: Electrolytes are key, especially in the summer months when my horses are sweating more. This supplement helps supply my horses with the salt they need. Plus provides them with some other electrolyte minerals that are lost in sweat like potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
  • Smart & Simple Vitamin E Pellets: This vitamin E supplement helps support a healthy immune system and helps neutralize free radicals.
  • SmartCombo Ultimate Pellets: This all-in-one pellet is great for horses that perform at this level of competition. They provide key ingredients for joint, tendon, and ligament support, plus supports strong hooves. This supplement also helps with stomach and hindgut health.
SmartPaks are easy to use and help my horses stay on a strict nutrition program that keeps them ready for the show pen.
Photo by Audrey Bolt

Staying Fit

When it comes to my horse’s exercise routine at home, I like to do a little bit of everything. I make sure each horse has turnout time; put horses on the hot walker; longe them; and of course, I ride my horses. I obviously want my show horses to stay in shape even when I’m not preparing them for a horse show, but I also want to make sure I’m not asking my horses to be at the peak of their performance ability every day.

I’m a fan of the sport of boxing, so I like to use boxing as an example to compare the two. You would never ask a boxer to stay at his fighting weight all the time. They train year-round and are always in shape, but there’s a difference between going to the gym for a sparring session and preparing for a match. The same goes for my horses. My horses should always be healthy and in good, physical shape. But they don’t need to be ready to compete at a horse show every time I pull them out of the stall.

In fact, when I’m not preparing for a horse show, I might not even focus on reining maneuvers when I ride. I might spend more time riding outside the arena, focusing on exercises that build stamina. Like trotting up and down hills. It also helps my horse get accustomed to different environments, which is going to set me up for success at horse shows. (Tip: If you plan on riding outside of the arena, be mindful of the ground before asking your horse to trot or lope. You don’t want him to accidentally step in a hole.) And when I do spend time in the arena, I focus more on the basics than I do the exciting maneuvers, like sliding stops or spins.

Focusing on the fundamentals also gives me a chance to evaluate where my horse is at mentally and physically and will help me get a game plan put together for when I do need to start building up for a horse show.

Keeping your horse happy and healthy at home is the secret for success in the show pen.
Photo courtesy of Matt Mills

Daily Care and Horsekeeping

The next part of my at-home maintenance program involves my horses’ health-care team. This includes professionals, therapeutic tools, and just regular horsekeeping needs.

Have a consistent shoeing schedule. I always make sure my horse stays on a routine schedule with my farrier. One of the biggest mistakes I see riders make involves adjusting their horse’s shoeing schedule. People think that they can let their horses get a little long so they can get shoed closer to a horse show. But by letting your horse go even a week late, you can throw him off balance and he won’t be able to travel the way he normally does.

Work closely with your vets. I work with my veterinarians to always make sure my horses are up to date on routine vaccines and that I have a deworming schedule put into place. Having a great working relationship with your veterinarian is extremely important. By being in constant communication with my vet I know that if anything is wrong—whether my horse is just behaving differently in his stall, or something just doesn’t feel right in the saddle—that my vets will be able to offer the best plan of action going forward and keep my horses healthy.

Therapauetic tools. There are also several therapeutic tools I use to help my horses stay healthy and recover from riding sessions. One of my favorites to use after a hard ride is the saltwater spa. It helps his legs cool down and can help with any inflammation. But you don’t need an expensive spa to help your horse recover after a hard ride. You can use ice boots or fill a boot or bucket with saltwater.

Good grooming habits. One of the easiest things you can do to create an overall better horse, is by spending time grooming your horse. It sounds like an easy task, but it’s so easy to get in a rush and skip the small details that come with grooming. When I use a curry comb, I’m able to see if my horse’s back is sore.

It also gives me a chance to inspect my horse’s body and notice any cuts or missing hair. I can check to make sure my horse looks healthy and isn’t losing weight. When I pick his feet, I make sure there are no stones stuck in his feet that will make it painful to do his job. It also gives me a chance to check over his shoes and make sure nothing is coming loose.

Doing something as easy as grooming a horse helps them get comfortable picking up their feet, having their body touched, become familiar to things like brushes, vacuums, spray bottles, making them overall better horses to be around on the ground.  

More Horse-Training Tips:

Related Articles
Portrait of horse in barn door
Read This Before Deworming!
Parasite Patrol
Better Your Backup
HR_24SPG_Health_hoof care_01
Year-Round Hoof Care
HR_24SPG_Problem Solved_loading_Al Dunning
Keep Loading Easy
Receive news and promotions for Horse & Rider and other Equine Network offers.

"*" indicates required fields


Additional Offers

Additional Offers
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.