Thursday, 9 April 2015

All About ... Fitness!

Ensuring your horse is fit enough to do the work you ask is essential to your horse's health and well -being.  All horses are different and obviously this must be taken into consideration too, both when working and when fittening!  

The work and time needed to get a horse fit will depend on a number of factors:
1.       How long he has been out of work
2.       How many times he has been fit before
3.       Age
4.       Breed
5.       Time of year

Whether you are planning to do dressage, cross country, long distance riding, local shows or hacking out you will need to start with a basic fitness routine.

On average to achieve a basic level of fitness takes 6-8 weeks.

Before starting your fitness programme you should:
  • Check the tack still fits - for an overweight (or under-muscled) horse it many need adjustments 
  • Ensure the tack is in good condition and is clean and supple 
  • If you are bringing the horse in from a 'holiday' in the field ensure the stable is prepared 
  • Bring him in for a couple of hours a day initially 
  • Does he need shoeing before you start? 
  • Ensure his worm counts and worming are up to date 
  • Ensure his vaccinations are up to date 
  • Start grooming, and trimming 
  • Does the horse need clipping? 
  • Calculate his food requirements based on work - food increase should follow an increase in work, food should not be increased before work 
  • If the horse has not had hard feed whilst on 'holiday' it will need to be gradually introduced 
  • Ideally still allow the horse time out in the field (his natural environment)

Basic Programme
When bringing a horse up from nothing the first 4 weeks are the most important.  This is when the horse's muscles, tendons and ligaments build strength and harden.  This will help minimise the chance of injuries later on.

Week 1
  • Walking only.  15 minutes on day 1 building to 1 hour on day 7 with 1 rest day.  This should be done on a flat surface eg: the road, will which will also help to harden the tendons and tone muscle.   Hills should not be introduced at this stage.  Keep an eye out for rubs from the tack!
Week 2
  • Recalculate feed 
  • Walking only.  Increase time from 1 hour to the time you will expect him to work on average each day eg: 1 1/2 hours.  Introduce some small hills in walk towards the end of the week.  This increases the level of work but does not put too much stress on the front legs.  The horse should not become sweaty or have laboured breathing. 1 rest day.

Week 3
  •  Recalculate feed 
  • Introduce trotting.  Exercise time should be as at the end of week 2.  Short trots can be introduced (approx. 1 min) these should be balanced and at a working trot pace.  Increase the length of time spent trotting as the week goes by.  Again do not over stress the horse, he should not sweat excessively or have laboured breathing.  1 rest day.
Week 4
  • Recalculate feed 
  • Increase trot.  Extend the length of time spent trotting and the frequency - gradually.  At the end of the week trotting up hills can be introduced.  You can start work on grass. 1 rest day.
Week 5
  • Recalculate feed 
  • Introduce canter work.  Short canters can be introduced (1 min) but ensure you have a good surface.  Beware as the horse may begin to feel 'well' now and may become over-excited!  Increase the length of time spent cantering and the frequency as the week goes by.  
  • Lunging can be introduced. 
  • Short schooling sessions with trotting poles.
Week 6
  • Recalculate feed 
  • Increasing the length of canters and introducing some hills in canter towards the end of the week. 
  • Schooling can become a little more intense. 
  • Some jumps can be introduced. 
  • A small dressage competition could be attended.

Week 7
  • Recalculate feed 
  • Increasing length of canters if required when hacking.  A short gallop could be introduced towards the end of the week. 
  • Schooling can be longer and again more intense. 
  •  A small show jumping or cross country competition could be attended.
Week 8
  • Recalculate feed 
  • Assess if horse's fitness is at the level required for the work you intend to do.  If not then further weeks fittening will be needed with increased work and intensity.
Never forget to cool down a horse properly after work.  This allows his metabolism to return to normal and help him remain healthy.  Walk the horse around at the end of schooling sessions or finish a lunging session with a few minutes walk.  If hacking out then walk the last mile or so.  

Ensure you regularly check the horse for swellings or bumps so that you are able to pick up on any potential problems early.  The first few weeks may sound boring but they are critical, use the time to really get to know your horse again and rebuild your riding relationship.

Have you seen this week's video?  'My Hacking Essentials'
Horse Life and Love.  Please check it out and SUBSCRIBE.

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Until next time!

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