February is here and many riders are beginning to get their horse back in shape for the upcoming show season. And while many of us have a good idea of how to get a horse in shape, how do you go a step further and work to improve your horse’s overall fitness level? The answer is to implement targeted exercises into your weekly routine.
Lunging your horse either inside or outside of a round pen can be a valuable tool for improving your horse’s overall fitness. It’s also a great way to work on verbal cues. However, keep in mind that you should only lunge your horse once or twice weekly for 20-30 minutes at most. Also, make sure to lunge in both directions in equal amounts. If your horse isn’t used to being lunged, start slowly and build up to 20-30 minutes. Adding poles can further increase the fitness factor.
Trail riding or hacking out can also be a great way to improve your horse’s fitness, while also giving them a break from routine training. Trotting will help your horse build muscle and increase stamina, but make sure to take walking breaks as well. Likewise, long walking hacks can make a big difference for an unfit horse.
Riding your horse up and down hills at varying paces is a great workout. To improve cardiovascular fitness, canter up hills and walk back down. To improve muscle strength and tone, walk or trot up hills. Going downhill requires both strength and balance. Start off walking, but as your horse’s fitness improves, you can try trotting or even cantering down some hills.
Interval training can be used to help strengthen both the muscles and respiratory system, increasing your horse’s overall endurance. The great thing about this type of training is that you can do it practically anywhere—in an arena, pasture or field, or while trail riding. With interval training, you’ll alternate between short bursts of high-intensity work and periods of walking. The goal is to keep your horse’s heart rate at 140 beats per minute or lower.
An example of interval training may look like this:
- 20 minutes at a walk
- 10 minutes at a brisk trot
- 5 minutes at a walk
- 2 sets of 2-minute cantering with 3-minute walking breaks in between
So there you have it—four great exercises to help improve your horse’s fitness. Which do you plan to implement this year?
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