Whether it is leisurely hacking out on the weekend, riding in an arena or carrying out more intensive training for equestrian competitions. Regular varied exercises can help to maintain good physical condition, promote a healthy heart and lungs, and stimulate an active mind. Below are four varied exercises that could be used to mix up your horses routine whilst improving overall fitness.
- Interval Training
Interval training can be used to strengthen your horse’s muscles and respiratory system. It can be easily incorporated into hacking out or arena work and is a great way to gradually boost your horse’s fitness and stamina.
The idea behind interval training is to replace long, low intensity sessions with rides which are short in duration but work the horse hard by interspersing short burst of high intensity work which is then followed by a period of rest in walk. Aim to keep your horse’s heart rate at 140 beats per minute (bpm) or lower. As at this point, the respiratory system is functioning aerobically, and your horse can continue working like this for long periods without getting too tired.
A simple example of some interval training may include:
- 20 minutes: Walk
- 10 minutes: Brisk trot
- 5 minutes: Walk
- 2 sets of 3 minutes (3 minutes of walk in-between): Forward canter
Remember the idea is not necessarily to go super-fast, keep a good rhythm and build your horses fitness gradually and create training suitable for your horse’s individual level of fitness.
- Hacking Out
Hacking out brings plenty of mental and physical benefits for both horse and rider and will help improve fitness and well-being across all areas. Hacking also provides new scenery and gives your horse something different to think about whilst generating exposure to traffic and other scenarios that your horse will likely face when out competing.
Going on long hacks can be a great way to build your horse’s fitness without having to drill them in the arena and can help create a happy well-rounded horse. As with anything, it is important to build up to long, fast rides gradually but even at a walk an hour of hacking can make a huge difference to an unfit horse. Just remember to work into your hack a cool down period, walking home on a loose rein is a great way to end your outing as well as allowing your horse time to stretch, relax and cool off.
- Hill Work
Hill work is a fantastic way to develop your horse’s fitness, by building muscles and strength. Hill work can be used to develop your horse’s hindquarters and shoulder muscles and can improve overall topline. Start by walking or trotting up the hills whilst working within the paces. As your horse’s fitness and strength develops, work on collecting and lengthening the trot and canter rather than just letting your horse maintain the same pace all the way up.
Groundwork on hills can also be beneficial for horses. Even young horses taken on trial walks can find confidence and balance without the added stress of balancing a rider.
When done correctly, lunging can help a horse learn to be more flexible and balanced, as well as increase fitness if the horse has not been working for a while consistently? It is also a great avenue for the rider to observe the horse’s way of going and how they carry themselves. It can also be used to assess progress, gaits or even soundness.
Lunging once or twice a week is a great complementary exercise to add to your horses work routine. Lunge work can be more demanding for your horse and sessions should be limited to around 20-30 depending on your horse and their current fitness level. Factor in plenty of stretching and walking and you can add in poles or transitions to keep the work varied and to increase the fitness factor as your horse progresses.
Written by: Michael-j Goddard