Horses who are expected to carry a rider should be healthy and fit. Keeping a horse conditioned and strong requires constant maintenance, but it’s easy to support if you work strength and conditioning exercises into your daily or weekly riding routines.
Conditioning is important for any horse, no matter the discipline. You don’t have to be an endurance or event rider to understand that your horse is an athlete. A tired horse or one that is not fit enough is more prone to injury.
Heels Down Mag cobbled together some of our favorite conditioning exercises riders can incorporate into their routines.
This is a fairly universal exercise, but one that is often used by eventers to keep their horses in top form. The goal is simple: to have the horse moving round in his back and through the topline, while trotting at a brisk, open pace for several minutes at a time. The horse should be moving freely (think 250 mpm), and really pushing from behind. This is an easy exercise to incorporate on the trails, or while hacking in the field, or even the arena, several times a week.
Hacks over hills.
Incorporating different terrain helps build muscle in the horse’s body. So similar to how walk, trot and canter work up and down hills (mostly up) helps build topline, it also helps lay the foundation for endurance and conditioning. Look for intervals in your pasture or trails with safe inclines that you can add to your work outs.
It might sound easy, but the more you work on crisp and clean transitions between the gaits, the fitter your horse will be. It’s not easy for an unfit horse to canter from a halt, or even to halt from a forward-moving canter. That requires fitness. Don’t expect the transitions to be clean and smooth from the beginning. It takes time to develop the conditioning for this kind of work. Start with the horse transitioning from the walk to the trot, to the halt, and vice-versa every few strides. Then begin to incorporate the canter, and perhaps shorten the length of strides in between each transition.
Working over ground poles is a great exercise to improve a horse’s core strength. Maintaining the horse’s core is vital, because those abdominal muscles help stabilize other parts of the body, like the pelvis and spine. A strong core helps the horse maintain balance. Raise cavaletti or ground poles set in various exercises around the arena are just one way to help the horse engage his core. For a full list of exercises we recommend, click here.
Remember, know your limits.
While conditioning work is helpful for building and maintaining fitness, you don’t want to overdo it. Work with your trainer to understand when your horse’s fitness is appropriate for the level you are competing at. Understand the signs of stress and fatigue to know when the work might be too much. All conditioning work should be done slowly and gradually. Every work out should be personally tailored to that horse’s individual needs.
More from Heels Down: Check out our ultimate strength and conditioning guides for each discipline.