7 Exercises To Make Your Horse Fit and Strong
Whichever discipline you ride, the fitness of the horse and the rider are equally important. If you want your horse to be athletic and perform better, you need to make sure that he is well exercised focusing on all the parts of his body. Focusing on only certain muscles is a wrong approach as the horse needs all his muscles to work in perfect harmony in any equestrian discipline. As Equestroom Team, we have compiled some exercises that you can try to improve the fitness of your horse and make him really athletic:
When the horse is really out of shape, starting with the lunge can be a good idea. Lunging improves the back muscles that go under the saddle. If the horse has been in a bad condition, taking things easy and giving him walk breaks in the lunge will help him relax and continue better. To get a higher benefit from lunging, you can add some poles and obstacles in different combinations. Also, adding an elastane band tied behind his hind legs can help him improve the topline. However, you shouldn’t lunge your horse every day. Experts advise lunging only 2-3 times a week and keeping it less than 30 minutes.
A study carried out by N.C. Stubbs, L.J. Kaiser, J. Hauptman, and H.M. Clayton in 2011 showed that it is important to exercise and stretch different muscles of the horse while unmounted. All you need to stretch your horse’s stiff muscles is a treat that he likes. The aim is basic: make him follow the treat in different directions with his nose. If the horse tends to follow the treat by moving his whole body, you can get help from someone to block his movement. Here are some directions that you can try to stretch the neck: muzzle to the chest, muzzle to the front legs (knees), muzzle between the front legs…
Riding uphill is a great way to exercise your horse’s back and hind end. The hind legs provide a great amount of power especially when you are jumping or riding several dressage movements like canter pirouette. When you make your horse walk uphill, he has to use the hind legs to push himself up. Riding downhill, on the other hand, helps the horse build a stronger front end. When you walk your horse downhill, he has to carry most of his weight on the front legs and balance himself. Make sure to sit in a stable position in the saddle and start with mildly steep hills. Try to ride both up and down and see if your horse can walk both easily. When you think that your horse can handle steep hills, you can gradually change the level. (Don’t forget that you should pick a hill with the proper firm footing.)
Also known as gallop sets, interval training is based on short rides that work the horse harder. The interval training intersperses short bursts of high-intensity work in canter followed by a period of rest in trot and walk. This exercise is preferred by eventers as it brings the heartbeat to a peak and brings it down slowly but it can be beneficial for any horse. If your horse is fit, you can try 10 minutes of walk - 10 minutes of trot - 10 minutes of canter. Then slow down by following the pattern vice versa. If the horse isn’t fit enough and hasn’t been getting regular exercise, you can shorten the trot and canter. Don’t forget that you don’t need to push your horse to run faster in the canter. Just make sure that his canter is in a good rhythm.
Doing pole work with different patterns forces the horse to pay closer attention to his strides. Adjusting and re-adjusting the stride length will make him both mentally and physically stronger. You can create your own pole work pattern where the poles are closer and further from each other. Besides, you can add trot poles into the pattern to make the work a bit harder. There are many examples of pole work exercises that you can find online and try with your horse. As you get through the simple patterns, you can try complicated ones.
Taking your horse to a long trail ride is the best and boredom-free way to improve his fitness. The variety of the terrain and endurance aspects of the trail will require him to use more muscles. Starting with a walk and trying some trot and canter in different parts of the trail and doing it on a regular basis will make a great difference on the condition of your horse. Depending on his fitness level you can make him canter and even gallop faster in the fresh air to get his blood pumped.
Riding your horse on different grounds is a good way to work his muscles. Depending on the solidity of the ground, the horse needs to use more or fewer muscles to carry his weight. Walking on sand, different terrains, grass, on a road (if safe enough), and in water will make your horse fitter on each ground. Especially walking, trotting, and even cantering in the water can be added to the regular exercise routine as it helps build stronger leg muscles and tendons.
If your horse had an injury or another health problem, you should consult your veterinarian about the way you pick the exercises. Don't forget that each horse is unique and not all of them respond the same way to the same exercising methods. We advise trying different ways and finding the one that works the best for your horse.