Horse Fitness

Best and Easiest Ways to Build Horse Fitness

January 9, 2020 0 Comments

Same as with humans, horses need to build their fitness in order to be athletic and ensure optimum performance. Before we begin, here are a few reasons it is crucial to come up with a proper horse fitness regime. You may want to build up both muscular and cardiovascular strength to

  • Step up to the next level with your horse. Jumping, trotting, and the like can be tough on you and your horse. Working up to these activies takes time and a regulated regimen.
  • Make sure that an older horse remains fit and sound. Just like us, if you don’t use it you lose it! Staying active is just as important for a horse.
  • Be able to ride your horse for an extended period. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that horses can get tired. And just like us, the more we do something the easier for our bodies to acclimate. Watch and listen to your horse. If they are sweating and breathing heavily, maybe it’s time to take a break!

The following are some simple tips to build your horse’s fitness…

Lunging or long reining

Depending on your horse and their current fitness state, don’t lunge five times a week or for longer than 20-30 minutes. However, if it is done properly, lunging once or twice per week can be very beneficial when it comes to building fitness.

In case your horse isn’t in good shape, you can begin with a lot of walk breaks.

Lunge work offers a lot of benefits when developing the muscles that go under the saddle minus the rider’s weight. Also, to diversify the work and enhance the fitness factor, consider adding poles or transitions.

Keep in mind that lunging can put a strain on horses. This is particularly so if they are young or are just returning to work. Therefore, it is important to build-up slowly and consider working on a larger circle. You need to always warm-up and cool down properly.

Hacking or Trail Riding

An ideal way of strengthening your horse’s fitness without needing to drill them in school is going on long hacks.

Considering the base level of fitness, you can do these long hacks mainly in walks with some trot. You can also have a great amount of canter and trot.

Just like with everything else, gradually building up to long, fast rides is crucial. Even so, a walk an hour of hacking tends to significantly improve unfit horses.

Due to the diverse terrain and endurance aspects of the hack, your horse will be using himself faster, the same as when you set out for a regular hike and find yourself feeling exhausted more easily than you thought. 

When you advance to the stage where the horse is comfortable with long stretches of canter, you can consider visiting the beach or hiring out gallops for the long blasts and to get his blood pumping.

Hill work

If you ever bring up the idea of building the fitness of your horse, one of the top suggestions that you’ll get from dressage rider, eventers, and showjumpers is hill work. There is a compelling reason for this.

When your horse goes up and down a hill in different phases, it targets all the different body parts of your horse and as you are obviously aware, running uphill is usually much harder than running on a flat area.

The best way to enhance cardiovascular fitness is to canter up a hill and then walk back down it. Do this repeatedly, however, you have to ensure that your horse is still paying attention to your commands – if you have to walk or trot up more than once to make him realize that it isn’t just about taking off any time he sees the bottom of the hill, then do it.

Once more, if you are training an event horse, you can incorporate some work in gallop in case the hill has a good length.

Instead of just allowing your horse to stick to the same pace all through, you can switch up the paces according to the way your horse’s fitness and strengths build up. Your main aim here is to collect and lengthen the trot and canter.

Compared to going uphill, going downhill targets different muscles, however, it shouldn’t be disregarded. Although the cardiovascular benefits are less compared to uphill work, the horse still needs plenty of strength and balance to properly go downhill.

Interval training

Interval training is particularly beneficial for the eventers. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that riders in different disciplines can make use of it.

Ideally, interval training involves replacing long, low-intensity sessions with short duration rides that require the horse to expend a lot of energy by spreading short bursts of high-intensity work in canter then following it with a period of rest in walk.

You can shorten the rest periods and lengthen the intense periods as you advance. This training technique is mainly utilized to prepare event horses for the season.

A suitable set up for horses that are already in work but need to build up their fitness before an event is to do canter for five minutes, and follow it with three minutes of walk. Do that two times and complete the session.

In case your horse’s fitness isn’t quite there, you can begin with slow canter at three to four minutes intervals, spread out with two or three-minute walk breaks according to the recovery speed of your horse.

Gymnastics and poles

Even if you attempt to get off the ground in any way, pole work and gymnastics are very useful when looking to improve a horse’s fitness. A big jump isn’t required to get your horse fit, therefore, maintain low jumps. This also helps to avoid strains.

Pole work and gymnastics are very beneficial not only when developing technique and fitness in jumping horses, but also when looking to improve the paces of dressage horses and assisting to target various muscles. In addition, the horse is forced to react faster and think about his feet which is important in any discipline.

Begin with normal poles on the ground aiming to trot and canter over.

As the horse becomes fitter, you have the option to utilize raised poles and alter the distances to get more collected gaits. This works your horse harder and enables him to add on fitness and muscle mass.

When it comes to gymnastics, ideal exercises include small bounces, combinations of one and two strides and trotting pole lines into a grid made up of three or four simple jumps.

Keep it small and nice while focusing one ensuring your horse makes use of his body over the jumps.