Like human athletes, horses need regular fitness training to stay in top form. Whether you’re preparing for the next competition season or you want to prevent your horse from sliding into sedentarism, a fitness or conditioning program can help you keep your horse in great shape.
Before you start, it’s important to assess your horse’s strength and fitness and to have realistic expectations. Consider the following when designing a fitness program:
- Your horse’s age and breed
- Injury/rehab requirements
- The sport you wish to compete in
- How fit your horse is now
- How fit your horse has been (e.g., during the last performance season before a period of downtime)
These factors will help you (or your consultant) determine an appropriate fitness or conditioning routine for your horse. Know the signs of stress and fatigue: elevated pulse or body temperature that does not drop rapidly at breaks, excessive sweating, weakness, muscle cramping, and inability to perform.
Start out slowly and introduce new exercises gradually—this will help you prevent unnecessary stress and injury. But, if your horse already gets regular exercise, you may be able to safely introduce strenuous activities sooner.
There are three types of fitness conditioning: cardiorespiratory (oxygen delivery to heart and lungs), strength (power and endurance), and suppling (joints, range of motion, and gait). You should incorporate all three into your fitness program.
Your program should include both aerobic exercise (sustained lower-intensity cardiovascular activity) and anaerobic exercise (short bursts of maximum-intensity activity). Remember to warm up, stretch, and cool down your horse with each workout.
Here are 3 activities to build your horse’s fitness:
The idea of interval training is to replace long, low-intensity rides with short bursts of high-intensity activity followed by a recovery period. Interval training can make your horse fitter, faster, and more athletic. An example of interval training would be two minutes of canter followed by two minutes of walking, repeated several times.
The goal is to gradually increase the length of the exercise intervals—just make sure you choose the appropriate level of fitness for your horse and track their vitals with a heart rate monitor. Your horse’s heart rate should increase to 130-160 beats per minute during the exercise interval and drop below 100 beats per minute during recovery. If your horse’s heart rate isn’t dropping sufficiently by the end of the walking interval, let him rest.
Trail riding and hill work are great ways to develop your horse’s shoulder muscles and hind quarters. They’re also good forms of cardiovascular exercise. Start out by asking your horse to walk halfway up the hill and trot the rest of the way. As your horse’s fitness improves, he should be able to trot the whole length of the hill. You can also make hill workouts more challenging by lengthening the trot and canter rather than maintaining the same pace all the way up the hill.
Weather, injuries, and other factors can make outdoor exercise on uneven terrain difficult or dangerous. An equine exerciser is ideal when outdoor exercise isn’t possible or when you need more control over your horse’s movement and pace. Additionally, a horse exerciser can be an exceptional tool to introduce variety into your horse’s exercise routine with. Vitafloor is a leading provider of high-quality horse exercisers. We offer several different horse hot walker models, including the Type LBE step-in hot walker that accommodates three to six horses, the Type HE professional automatic horse walker that fits up to eight horses, our ceiling mounted horse walker, which allows your horses to exercise in a temperature-controlled environment all year long, and our oval exerciser that can be made to fit any diameter and any amount of horses.
Whatever forms of exercise you choose for your horse’s fitness routine, consistency is key, since inconsistent routines can make your horse more susceptible to injuries. Choose exercises based on your horse’s needs and abilities, and invest in quality equipment to keep him fit, healthy, and content.
Vitafloor USA is a leader in top-of-the-line equine exercisers, horse vibration plates, saddle pads, and other horse training equipment. Browse our online shop to see our complete line of quality products.