The season for horse and rider fitness is here. Not that you
are not fit year round (I hope) but we all want to perform in
some way with our horses this time of year while in the colder
months we might be simply maintaining a base level of healthy
This newsletter is dedicated to providing fitness tips for you
and your horse no matter what your discipline, breed or performance
I’ll start with the ideal setting for fitness for you and your
horse. If you have access to open fields, trails, hills and galloping
tracks you are a lucky horse person. There is nothing better for
you and your horse than to get out for long walk/trot/canter/gallop
sets. If you can add hills into that mix so much the better. I
do this once a week or every 6 days with my horse and it is making
all the difference in his ring work and it deepens our bond of
having fun together even more.
But most of us are limited to arenas or enclosed areas. And
many riders are not at the point in their relationship with their
horse of having the trust and confidence to go out and do all
of the conditioning work on their own. I know there are several
horses at the barn where I board that are reluctant to go beyond
the dressage ring or the indoor arena or their stall or turn out
paddock. Their owners/riders simply put all their time with their
horse into arena training and none or little into getting their
horse out into the open for conditioning both mental and physical.
It’s a fact of life in the horse world today, most of you will
be taking lessons, training and performing with your horses in
an arena setting. Be it dressage, hunters and jumpers, reining,
barrel racing, cutting, pleasure and trail classes or whatever
you do to prepare your horse. It can be challenging to get a horse
in good physical shape simply by working every day in an arena.
Nonetheless healthy conditioning is very important and plays
a major role in the success of your partnership. A well conditioned
horse has the supportive muscles and joint structure to carry
you successfully in your arena sports.
Here are some tips for conditioning you and your horse.
- Trotting poles and/or cavaletti – Set up a line of trotting
poles. Most trotting poles can be set from 3’ (for ponies or
small horses) to 4’ (most horses) apart. Use 2 poles to start
then add to 3 and 4 and keep your horse in the same trotting
rhythm as you go over them. This forces the horse to lift his
joints and his back and strengthens the “carrying” muscles.
You can also place the poles on a circle pattern in a fan shape
and ride over them while you are trotting. This helps the horse
bend and lift simultaneously.
- Lots of transitions – Create as many transitions up and down
as you can. This will ask the horse to use his carrying muscles
and engage his joints more effectively than simply working on
the flat for a long time. Go from walk to trot to walk to canter
to walk to canter to trot to halt to back to trot, etc. Start
with a few strides in each gait and as you continue lengthen
the times between transitions. Let your horse walk on a long
rein and stretch periodically too and of course, always reward
- Play with your horse – with a rope halter and very long line
teach your horse games and mix it up with lunging circles at
the walk, trot and canter. Have them go over jumps (yes, any
horse can do this!) and up and over safe obstacles and figure
out puzzles. My horse and I do this often and we both really
love it. He gets a new sense of confidence about what he can
accomplish and how smart he really is! And I love to watch him
play with me. It also is a new way for him to use his body in
fitness. Changing directions, jumping over obstacles and finding
his balance going up and down a steep incline are just a few
ways I add fitness to his game day.
- Find some friends and a good trail system and trailer out
together a few times a month. Go camping with your horse or
just out for a trail ride. Even if it is just for a walk through
the woods it is better than going around in circles every time
- If you have access to a round pen use it to help with your
horse’s fitness. I am not a proponent of constant round pen
use but I do think they can serve us well if used as another
tool mixed in with everything else you do together. Set up some
poles around the track and have your horse trot or canter (typically
9’ apart for most horses) in both directions going over the
poles in rhythm. You can do this on the lunge line or free lunging.
Have your horse change directions, halt and back, then up to
the canter, etc. It can be fun and rewarding for both of you.
And fitness for you? Well you should be walking everyday, Pilates
and/or Yoga for balance and stability at least once per week and
a cardio workout every week. If you have trouble working all of
this into your life then do it while you are at the barn! Take
a long walk with your horse in-hand at a good pace, jog with your
horse in-hand, go out and jog the boundaries of the property.
Since you are already, dirty, sweaty and in sneakers do your cardio
work at the barn! Even if it is just 30 minutes get your walking
and your cardio into your week. You will be safe, effective, balanced
and prepared for your riding. Your horse will know that you are
on the team and with his motion when you are in condition yourself.
I have mentioned this before, but it is worth mentioning again.
Try out the MBT performance shoes. MBT stands for Masai Barefoot
Technique. They are made to give you a good workout when you walk
and eliminate joint stress, pressure and pain. They are amazing
and they keep you in good shape. They are available at Foot Solutions
stores or you can go to their website www.swissmasai.com
and find other locations. I have a pair of the shoes for most
of the year and the sandals for summer walking and hiking. They
are so comfortable and last forever. I have had mine for 5 years
now and they are in great condition. One of my students has used
them for her daily walks and lost 25 pounds in 4 months!
I hope this gives you inspiration and tools to start out the
Summer. I will send along some photos soon of me and Redge at
our first horse show June 28. I want all of you to have a great
relationship with your horse on whatever level works for both
Keep loving, respecting, trusting and most importantly, listening
to your horse(s)! They deserve it.
New Phone Numbers: Office 502-552-1195