To enjoy your competing this coming season, it is important that your horse is fit for the level of work he will be doing, enabling him to perform when it counts and reduce the risk of injuries
Fitness should be worked on slowly and gradually over a few weeks to enable the horse to adjust to the changes in exercise level. Don’t be tempted to push too hard as a sudden increase in work can lead to injuries like a pulled or torn muscles and which will put your fitness training off by a few weeks while your horse recuperates.
Make sure your horse is ready to start work by ensuring that his vaccinations, dentistry, shoeing is up to date.
Below is a simple fitness plan but keep in mind that each horse is an individual and the time it takes to get a horse fit will be influenced by the following factors:
- the horse’s age — veteran horses and very young horses will take longer to get fit than those in their prime
- how fit the horse is now — a horse which has been kept ticking over during the summer will be fitter than one which has not been exercised at all
- any injuries — a horse is coming back into work following time off with an injury will need many weeks of slow work to ensure too much pressure is not applied to the injured part
- how fit the horse has been — a horse which is used to being let down over the summer and brought back up in the autumn will be fitter quicker than a horse being got fit for the first time
Most fitness programmes can be broken down into three stages:
stage one – slow work to harden up bones and tendons;
stage two – work to improve strength and stamina and basic fitness;
stage three – faster work to prepare the horse for cross-county type events.
A sample programme
The fitness programme set out below caters for a horse which has been kept ticking over during the summer and whose rider intends to compete regularly in lower-level competitions over the winter.
Week 1 – Around 20mins roadwork in walk each day
Week 2 – Increase roadwork to 30-40mins per day
Week 3 – Increase roadwork to 60 mins per day. If you are blessed to be near a hill include some hill work as this really helps the horse’s fitness
Week 4 – Extend hacking time to up to 90mins per day (can be in two separate rides) including some trot work on suitable ground (not tarmac)
Week 5 – Start introducing some gentle schooling in the arena (20-30mins max). Exercise can be increased to 2hrs daily including some trotting up hills (not on roads)
Week 6 – Gradually increase time spent schooling and introduce some cantering on suitable ground out hacking
Week 7 – Build up the period of time in canter. Continue with schooling in the arena, start to introduce jumping
Week 8-9 – Continue with the current work and introduce some faster work (strong canter, controlled gallop) in either a continuous training or interval training format