Have you ever walked into a gym and had absolutely no idea where to start? Workouts that start that way usually don’t accomplish much. You know you want to get in shape, but how do you get from where you are to where you want to be? Human personal trainers, myself included, would tell you that what you’re missing is a plan. Getting your horse in shape for what you want to do is the same way!
What do I mean by a plan? You need a plan for the ride, and a plan for the big picture. When you first decide that you need to work on your horse’s fitness level, give yourself a timeline for when you want to accomplish his fitness. If you’re not sure how long it will take him to reach that goal, keep in mind it takes 4-6 weeks for horse’s neuromuscular system to adapt to exercise- this means that initially there will be increased innervation to the muscles (more muscle fibers will receive signals to respond to exercise, causing a marked increase in strength) and then 3-6 months for the muscle fibers to further adapt to the exercise and truly become stronger. If you have questions beyond this, ask a qualified trainer or send me a message on the “contact me” page.
Next you need to start structuring your rides to help your horse begin to adapt and become stronger and fitter. I usually recommend riding 5-6 times a week with two rides being less demanding. Vary the other 3-4 rides to hit a different aspect of your horse’s fitness each day.
For example: I am trying to get my horse ready for a one day three-phase schooling show at Novice (3ft). The horse is used to being ridden lightly for 30 minutes with the occasional 45 min-1 hour lesson over jumps, he has shown extensively over 3ft in the past year. The show is in 5 weeks.
- Sunday: 1 hour trail ride/hack over varied terrain at the walk
- Monday: Day off
- Tuesday: 45 minutes, gymnastic jumping exercises and dressage-oriented flatwork (working on the bit, focusing on relaxation and engagement)
- Wednesday: 45 minutes, dressage skill work- focus on lateral work to build suppleness and increase carrying power in the haunches
- Thursday: Fitness day over varied terrain- ten min walk, 3 five minute trot sets with a two minute walk in between, 2 three minute canters with a two minute walk in between, ten minute walk cool-out
- Friday: Day off
- Saturday: 1 hour lesson jumping or dressage
Having a focused plan for the big picture, as well as a plan for each ride helps you track what your horse is doing and how they progress as far as fitness. This can provide you with really valuable insight on what your horse is capable of doing when you’re planning out your calendar. Whether you trail ride for fun, run the barrels, or compete in eventing, making sure your horse is in shape for his or her job will make sure you both have more fun and ensures your horse’s comfort and health; not to mention the journey to being in better shape will create a stronger bond between you and your partner.
If you need help putting together a plan, visit my Equine Fitness Plans page!