As we head into spring, now is the time to start thinking about whether you and your horse are fit enough for any competing, sponsored rides or longer hacks that you want to do over the summer months. We all know that the fitter your horse is, the more likely he is to be happy and sound and be able to perform at his best for competition work. But what is the best way to get him fit?
The first thing to consider is that any fittening work needs to be done gradually. If you’ve ever been to the gym or taken part in a fitness class and done a workout that has left you feeling sore and stiff, even lame, you will know the effects of overdoing it. Horses are no different and if you push him before he’s ready then he is likely to suffer soreness, and possible injuries in the same way as you.
Here at Bridleway, we believe variety is important for your horse so try and do a range of activities. If you have good hacking, then fitness work can be a fun way to start.
Begin your programme by walking out for 30 minutes a day on roads and tracks, building up over two weeks to 45 minutes. In week three, start introducing some trot work and build up to an hour of riding with short spells of trot work. If you have hills you can add into your rides then begin to introduce these by week four as they are great for building strength and fitness.
Slowly build up the periods of trot so that you are constantly adjusting the programme and increasing his workload. Keeping his legs protected from injury is a must and Bridleway have a fabulous range of boots in stock including a therapy boot to help bring down any heat or swelling after exercise, http://www.bridlewayequestrian.com/shop/home.php?cat=250
Back to school
By week five you can introduce short schooling periods twice a week, keeping them to no more than 30 minutes. Your horse’s first few weeks in the school should be very basic work. Use a lot of stretching exercises and large circles to begin with and build in plenty of transitions to help make him stronger over his back and hind quarters. A good rule is once you are warmed up to never ride more than a 20m circle without a transition. Then start to bring in some lateral work, such as leg yields and shoulder-in and counter-canter depending on the horse’s level of experience. Lengthened strides should not be incorporate until your horse is much fitter as they are very strenuous.
A jump start
By week eight, you can add in pole-work and jumping sessions again keeping these to short sessions initially before later building in grid-work. Small stand-alone fences are the way to begin so that your horse builds his confidence. Then start to introduce doubles, and then related distances and courses. Employ the help of a knowledgeable rider or instructor to help with putting up poles and walking out the distances. It is important to get the distances right for each horse so that you don’t knock his confidence.
Hiring a cross-country course is also a good way to improve his cardiovascular fitness. Horses tend to be more forward into fences across country and you have open spells in between fences to gallop him and build his workload.
The whole process should take about three months if you are starting fitness training from scratch with a horse that is coming back from a rest period. This is the same no matter what disciplines you want to compete in or what you want to do with your horse. It will of course take less time for a horse that is ticking over.
Skimping on fitness work is a common mistake, and if you are working full-time, it can be hard to put the amount of time needed into the job. However be realistic. If you can’t ride five or six days a week, then it will take you longer to get him to the same level of fitness. Keeping him turned out in the field as often as possible will help keep the joints and muscles supple and moving and he will lost less fitness as a result. It is also important to remember that while regular work is good for horses and helps to keep them healthy as well as fit, it is also important to give them time to relax. Horses should have at least one, if not two days off in the week. Whatever level you are riding at and whatever discipline, you owe it to your horse to make sure he is fit enough to do the job and that way you will get the best out of your riding this season.