Horses that participate in any sport have a certain level of fitness they should operate at. This can be a lower level, such as what would be needed to safely get around a sub-1.0m jumper course, or a high performance level, such as that required for upper level eventing.
Many riders will integrate conditioning work into their weekly program; this is a great way to get out of the ring and do something engaging and different, which can break up the monotony of flatwork or jumping in the ring.
Even if you’re not an event rider, there are still ways to ensure your horse is truly fit for his job, and enjoy the scenery while you’re at it.
1. Long hacks: If you have access to trails at your barn, take advantage of them. Now that we’re moving into cooler temperatures in many parts of the country, it’s a great time to hit the trails. These don’t have to be hard work, even just a nice long walk on a loose rein can do wonders for building topline and confidence. Teaching your horse that it’s ok to venture out of the ring is beneficial for traveling to shows or other new environments and gives him a little bit of extra confident swag to add to his step.
2. Trot sets: Again, even if you’re not asking your horse for high performance cardio work, trot sets can still be beneficial. Encouraging your horse to accept the contact and stretch into it on an extended trot set will build muscle and endurance, which will make your every day riding that much easier. It’s important with trot sets to make sure you’re encouraging your horse to really swing his back and have a long, loose stride rather than a short, choppy one. Allowing him to be above the vertical or to pull on you is counter-productive.
3. Hills: If you are lucky enough to have access to any sort of terrain, this is another thing to take advantage of. Even walking up and down a hill for a few minutes every week will really teach your horse to balance and regulate his own pace. Plus, you can build up that hind end because we all know that is where the power comes from!
Of course, with every discipline comes a different criteria for what it means to be fit. If you’re curious as to how to tell if your horse is fit enough for his job, you can check out some expert advice in this month’s issue of Heels Down Magazine by clicking here.