Hints and Tips
Exercise Tip 1
Take your horse for a walk
Take your horse for a walk, either in hand or under saddle, on hard ground for twenty minutes or more a couple of times a week. On a flat hard area, either road or hard compacted ground such as a driveway, take your horse for an active brisk walk for five minutes, and then slowly increase this every time you do this until you end up taking them for a one to two km walk. If you are riding, give your horse a loose rein, so your horse is relaxed and they balance themselves. Try to allow two days in between each session.
It used to be thought that trotting your horse on hard ground would strengthen and condition their legs but it is has been found that the concussive forces can be detrimental. Taking your horse for a walk on hard surfaces is thought to strengthen horses legs, specifically tightening the lower leg tendons.
Note: If your horse has been diagnosed with a condition such as arthritis in the leg joints this is not a good exercise for them.
Exercise Tip 3
Improve your horse’s cardiovascular fitness
To improve your horse’s cardiovascular fitness, try doing some interval training with them. This can be done in an arena or on trail rides. This exercise will increase your horse’s respiration and heart rate with a short burst of speed (canter).
During the trot phase, it should return to working levels.
Warm your horse up in an active walk for 10 minutes.
Pick up canter (working canter) around the arena for 2 minutes.
Go back to working trot for 2 minutes.
Pick up canter in the opposite direction for 2 minutes.
Repeat this for twenty minutes.
Walk for 10 minutes until their heart and respiration rates have returned to normal levels.
Proceed to walk your horse for another 10 minutes to allow them to cool down.
Note: this exercise assumes a basic level of fitness in the horse. If you want to continually improve your horse’s fitness, add another workout after the first ten minute walk.
Many riders suffer from anxiety when getting back into the saddle again. If your horse has had time off due to an accident or illness or if you have taken time out from riding, you might experience some anxiety whilst getting back into riding. It is not only everyday riders who might experience this "fear" but also top-level riders.
So, what can you do to help combat this anxiety? Start with small steps and reward yourself for every achievement. With a knowledgeable instructor or friend, start with getting back on your horse and then celebrate! The next step is riding in walk on a loose rein at walk until you feel comfortable, then ask for some circles and serpentines on a loose rein until you start looking forward to trotting. Once in trot, if you start to feel nervous, go back to walk but reward yourself for taking that next step.
Take small steps and reward yourself every time you take a small step forward. Ideally, with encouragement from yourself, your instructor and your friends, slowly you will feel more comfortable and you can push yourself to last a little longer at each stage.
“Motion is lotion”
Like humans, horses benefit from consistent exercise to improve their performance. If you only go to the gym at the weekends or go for a long run once a week, you are likely to get sore. The same applies to horses, and one of the most important practices in conditioning your horse is consistency.
If you work your horse at the weekends at a high rate of intensity and then rest them during the week, you are creating the potential for soreness. If you want to improve your horse’s performance and are time poor, it is better to have four shorter workouts than one or two long hard rides. Regular workouts can improve circulation, aerobic fitness, and can increase their metabolic rate.
Exercise Tip 2
Scatter poles/Pick-Up Sticks
Get some poles (ideally you will need at least ten) and place them in a random order around a twenty-metre area, a bit like the game of pick-up sticks. You want some to lie across each other and some that are by themselves. Ask your horse to slowly walk over each pole in each direction, then try and find lots of different routes through the poles.
This exercise will make your horse adjust his stride and concentrate on where they place their feet so helping them develop better balance, improve their co-ordination and proprioception. It will also require them to work their hindquarter muscles and core muscles which will in turn will help develop their back muscles.
This exercise can be done in hand, or if your horse is used to pole work, under saddle. If you are riding this exercise, use only a loose rein and allow your horse to find their own balance. It is better to use PVC pipes for this, otherwise be careful lifting the poles, as they can be heavy.
Exercise Tip 4
Backing up a hill (or over a pole)
To improve your horses muscular strength and ‘suppleness’, ask your horse to back up a hill (or over an obstacle such as a pole). This can be done whilst riding or in hand. This exercise requires the horse to use their ‘ring of muscles’ (the muscles along the bottom and top line of a horse). It can be used throughout a conditioning programme to help develop their back muscles.
On a gentle slope, stand your horse with their head facing downhill.
Ask your horse to lower their head (to shoulder level).
Ask for at least 10 steps backwards.
Every time you are on a hill, add more steps.
If you do not have a hill to do this exercise, place a large pole on the ground and ask them to step over it backwards.
Note. If your horse braces, has poor posture, or is crooked, stop the movement and try it in hand.
Hitch up your float and go somewhere different! Horses benefit from a change of scenery, both mentally and physically. Riding on different surfaces, up and down hills, across slopes and through water can improve your horse's balance and will strengthen different muscles. In addition to this, horses, like people, benefit from facing new challenges.
The importance of stretching cannot be underestimated. Horses, like humans, benefit from stretching their muscles and limbs to help them cope with the demands of exercise. Stretching helps loosen the muscles and tendons, which allows joints to move more freely. It also helps release toxins from the muscles reducing any soreness or stiffness.
Front leg stretches can tone and relax the front leg muscles; they can also stretch out the ascending and descending pectorals, which can help improve the range of motion of the horses legs. To do this gently rotate the fronts legs (supporting the knee and pastern) in both directions in small circles and then gently pull the leg gently forwards.
Note: Try to perform these stretches after a massage/vigorous grooming session, or if your horse is stabled it is better to perform these stretches after riding when their muscles are warm to reduce the risk of straining a muscle