We’ve made it through January, the days have started to get a little lighter and you’re starting to think about the spring and summer. You might be thinking about things you want to do with your horse when the weather is better, it might be a competition, a long hack or a camp, but for all of these things your horse will need to be fit.
Following a progressive fitness program will be better for your horse as it will give their body time to adjust to the work load and will reduce their chance of injury in the long run. If we compare the process to people, there’s a reason that couch to 5k exists, it’s so the goal is broken down into manageable chunks and you don’t injure yourself by running too far too soon.
The average fitness program takes 8-12 weeks and can be broken down into 3 stages
1. Long slow distance
2. Strength and suppleness
Each of these stages has a specific type of work
1. Long, slow distance – this stage does exactly what is says on the tin, you cover long distances slowly. To start with you might just go for a 15 minute walk, but by the end of the block you’ll be out for around an hour and a half in walk and trot. The purpose of this is to get the horse’s body used to working
2. Strength and suppleness – at this stage you’ll start to introduce work in the arena. The reason to wait this long is that the smaller space of an arena can be hard on a horse’s body and requires more suppleness than hacking. Until their bodies have been conditioned then there’s a greater chance of a strain. This stage can involve the gradual introduction of canter, lungeing and polework as the horse becomes stronger.
3. Speedwork – this is a horse’s cardio. The speedwork will help to build the heart muscle and get them used to working at speed. This will be done differently depending on your goal, if your working towards a camp then adding more canter into your schooling sessions or hacks will be enough, if you’re aiming to event then work on the gallops will be more useful.
Although every fitness plan will involve these stages, each horse is an individual and the work you do in each stage may vary depending on their requirements. A horse recovering from and injury may need to spend more time in stage 1, a horse who finds it harder to hold fitness may need more focus on stage 3 when they reach that point and a horse who is getting fit for the first time may need longer in stage 2.
If you’re in the process of getting your horse fit, make sure you check out the Fitness webinar I delivered in January. I covered how to plan your fitness programme, how to use alternative types of work and what to do if it goes wrong. You can watch it HERE