Getting your Horse Fit for the Season Ahead
Summer is fast approaching and if the constant rain that’s been dumped onto the UK this winter has turned the tables on your pre-season fitness regime, you might be in need of a little help.
Exercising your horse when the rain is pouring and the wind is howling is fun for neither horse nor rider, and unless you’re lucky enough to have an indoor school, you’d be forgiven for extending your horse’s winter holiday well into the start of spring.
But just because your horse has lost a little condition and enjoyed a few weeks (or months!) of lighter work in between rain-showers, doesn’t mean all is lost for the season ahead. You’ve still got ample time to get your horse fit, healthy, and in peak condition ready for the summer shows. Here’s how.
Work Long and Slow
Before you introduce anything that’s too high intensity, it’s important that you build up stamina gradually. Doing too much too soon can lead to injury and pain.
This means lots of time spent in walk and trot before you move on to the fast training! If your horse has had a very long break and lacks fitness, the first few weeks should be spent in the walk (and ideally out hacking as opposed to the school).
Increase the length of time you spend walking over the course of a few weeks, building up to short bursts of a trot.
Lunging or Long Reining
Often the last thing we want to do in gale force winds and pouring rain is ride, especially if the horses have had a few days off. Lunging or long reining is a great way to build up your horse’s muscle and fitness with minimal risk of you being launched into outer space!
If your horse is very out of shape, give him lots of walk breaks. Try not to lunge on a circle for more than 20-30 minutes, and once your horse is fit enough, begin incorporating poles and raised poles. These will help your horse engage from behind and work properly, building a topline and getting him fit for the season ahead.
Many people opt to use a lunging aid to further improve their horse’s way of going. If you’re new to gadgets but still think your horse might benefit, ask a reputable trainer or physio for advice.
We all know the pain of running or even walking up a hill, and fitness-wise it’s as good for horses as it is for humans! Going up and down hills in all paces works a huge number of muscles in your horse’s body – getting them fitter while also encouraging them to step through from behind.
Faster isn’t always better when it comes to hills. Your horse can benefit just as much walking up hills as they can cantering.
Almost every eventer is a fan of interval training, but it’s also used by dressage riders, show jumpers and even happy hackers to build their horse’s stamina. Interval training can be done alongside long, slow work (on different days). It’s ideal if you’re short on time, but need to give your horse a quick workout.
Interval training involves a short burst of high-intensity work, followed by a longer walk break. As your horse gets fitter you can increase the high intensity, and decrease the break time. Combine with hill work for a serious boost!
If you’re getting fit for the show jumping season, you can’t go wrong with gridwork. One of the best ways to get horses pushing properly from behind as they take off, practising gridwork every couple of weeks will lead to a fitter horse and (hopefully) more clear rounds!
You don’t have to jump big jumps for gymnastic exercises and grids to have a hugely positive effect. Try a row of bounces, someone or two stride distances, and rows of cavalettis to get your horse picking his feet up and thinking for himself.
For your horse to enter the season in good condition, his feeding has to be spot on. It’s always better to be a couple of steps ahead, so if you know your horse is likely to gain a lot of weight when the spring grass comes through then you should bear this in mind when it comes to feeding.
For a horse to gain muscle and fitness, they will need enough energy (calories) to do the work required, as well as enough protein. There’s a range of supplements on the market that can give your horse that added boost when it comes to muscle building.