Equine Training and your horse’s fitness means having to always ask yourself, how fit does my horse have to be?
Whether your intention is to simply hack out, compete at riding club shows or to progress up to advanced eventing, it is important that your horses’ fitness is increased in a natural gradual and consistent way.
The length and nature of your horse fitness programme depends largely on the objective.For example, a horse that is destined for advanced three day eventing, will need a very different fitness program to a riding club horse looking to compete at local shows.
However, almost all horse fitness programs begin in the same way, and that’s walking.
Training a Horse – Walking Exercise …
Depending on the period of rest that your horse has had or what condition the horse is in when you are returning it to work, will play a large part in how long the walking phase will last.
Walking builds up overall fitness and strengthens the horse and it is important not to do too much too soon or a whole host of problems and conditions will emerge; a factor that will really delay the whole process.
Using the example of a riding club horse,
- The walking phase will take between two and three weeks. If time will not allow, then extend this period as needed.
- Begin by going out for 15 minute rides increasing to one hour. Gradually include roadwork, but If this is introduced too early, concussion injuries may become an issue.
It’s also important to vary where you go and what you do to prevent boredom in both horse and rider.
A short hack, basic walk schooling session and long reining are all very acceptable.
If your horse has not been ‘turned away’ fully then the walking stage may not be required or could be shortened to suit your horses’ fitness level.
Once the time spent riding increases; the horses work should become a little bit more demanding;
- hill work in walk with short intervals
- trot work recommended by the following week.
However, it is important to remember that knowing your horse is essential.
If you feel that he isn’t ready to progress to the next stage, there is no harm in keeping him at a less demanding level or finding a middle ground.
So, for example, if your horse seems to be struggling with trotting, then just alter your walk to a really active walk for short periods.
Making horses walk-on in an active manner will still increase horse fitness and it is definitely advisable to try to maintain this motion for as long as possible.
Once your horse is able to sustain trot for a good few minutes any time it is asked, schooling can be introduced and maybe even a short canter; but keep assessing your horse and whether you feel it is ready. If not, alter the work and carry on at the same level.
At the trot stage, riding time can increase, schooling can be extended and time spent trotting and cantering can rise.
Small jumps may also be introduced followed by a bit of lunging.
Canter time should be increasing and cantering uphill can be introduced.
By this point, your horse is really in full work, and should be able to perform all the duties that a riding club horse needs to.
The most important thing to remember is to use your common sense.
There is a place for horse fitness programmes, but they may not fit in with your lifestyle commitments or your horse’s condition.
The horse may be fitter than you first thought or possibly less fit than first anticipated. A good horse owner will stay flexible while trying to build the horse’s fitness. This flexible approach will help guard against injuries and other problems.
Training a Horse – Feeding Your Horse Fit …
Feeding throughout the horse fitness program should always be monitored, and you should always increase work before you increase feed; never the other way around, or you will get a very lively horses and lots of problems.
Your horse’s fibre intake should never drop below 40% bulk as your horse’s system will not function correctly.
With horse fitness and feed, your horse’s skin condition and appearance should always be monitored.
Girth galls and saddle sores are quite common when horses recommence work after a rest period but they can be prevented.
Ensuring that tack fits plays a large part, and using salt water or surgical spirit on the areas that come into contact with tack will help ‘harden’ the skin.
Training a Horse – Other Fitness Factors to Consider …
There are other factors to be considered as far as what to do with the horse before he starts work.
- If shoes have been removed, you’ll need to get the horse re-shod
- Use the free time to have a good spring clean of yard, stables, tack and rugs, and you’ll start the horse fitness program on the right note.
Once your horse has reached your desired level of fitness …,
The trick now is to try to keep your horse at this fitness level, and this is most definitely a balancing act.
- If your horse’s work is increased and increased, it will become fitter and fitter, which could be totally unnecessary depending on what you hope to do with your horse.
- Conversely, if work is reduced too much horse fitness will fall away and the horse will find it harder to do what is required.
There are many factors that influence horse fitness, but common sense is as always, vital throughout.
Always bear in mind the old fable of the tortoise and the hare; because slow and steady really will win this race.