Tack n' Talk

Online Equestrian Resource

My thoughts on exercise!

Time for a few words and my thoughts on exercise and your horse.  I have seen far too many riders, who think that they are training their horses properly but in reality actually doing a great disservice to their horse.  Carrying a rider is a very unnatural activity for your horse and you really want to ensure that he is physically capable of  carrying you comfortably and in balance.  Be warned that without proper conditioning, your horse is not naturally able to do so without damaging his anatomy!  No matter what discipline you ride, be it dressage, evening, trail, hunter/jumper or western pleasure, you must create the physical foundation to keep your horse sound and healthy.  Exercises that strengthen your horse’s muscles not only promote flexibility but will result in less injury and less strain on tendon and ligaments and your horse will be able to perform the task requested.

It is very important to warm up your horse before exercise by giving him enough time to warm up those muscles.  What is a warm up?  It can be described as transitioning the body from a resting state to a state suitable for activity as the muscles must .

  1. Trot over Ground Poles:  Always start at a walk during a newly introduced exercise.  Your ground poles, depending on the size of your horse and length of stride, should be about 5 feet apart.  Start with 3 poles on the ground working your way up to 5.  When trotting over the ground poles, move into a two point seat to make it easier for your horse to round his back and move freely over the poles.  Make sure you give your horse enough rein to enable him to stretch his neck while trotting over the poles as this will encourage rounding his back and it will therefore, strengthen his abdominal muscles.  Your horse will not only learn to pick up his feet, but also stay in a rhythm.  A very good book that I read often is Cavaletti:  The Schooling of Horse and Rider over Ground Poles by Reiner Klimke.
  2. Once your horse has mastered the ground pole, introduce a small jump…a Cavaletti.  Your horse will strengthen his abductors and will engage his abdominal muscles which will help support his back.
  3. Transitions and more transitions to encourage your horse to bring his hind end under and carry himself better and rounder.  Pay attention to the quality of transition and to your balance and riding technique to encourage the perfect transition.  If you are heavy on the hand, this often will have the adverse effect of either the horse being hollow and lifting his head during downward transitions.  Ride with a light hand and with your seat and reward your horse by giving in, which is to take off the pressure.  Don’t rush, stay relaxed and maintain a forward steady tempo.
  4. Lateral exercises strengthen and stretch muscles that are typically under-exercised which will help your horse develop the balance, coordination and round frame much desired.  Be patient and set realistic goals remembering that too much lateral moving can sour your horse.
  5. Trail riding not only is enjoyable for you and your horse, but also cover so many aspects of equine physical fitness.  Walking the trail in a long rein is a great way for your horse to use his two big neck muscles of each side to move the front leg forward.  Keeping him on a long reing while being motivated to step forward will improve his range of motion, relax his neck and poll and strengthen his shoulders, all done while the horse is relaxed and interested in his surrondings.  Walk up hills slowly and don’t allow your horse’s desire to rush up which is easier for your horse.  By walking up a hill slowly, your horse’s hind end will strengthen and you will be encouraging him to step under himself and round his back.  Stay in a light seat or even a two point seat when trotting down light slopes to encourage your horse to round his back.  Canter your horse for 10 – 15 minutes at a time as this is the best exercise to strengthen your horse’s back in addition to a great cardio workout!  Work up slowly at first as this requires a high level of fitness on your part – the rider!

No matter how many years you have ridden or will ride, training never stops.  Keep it interesting and diverse with your horse’s best interest in mind.

Have fun…Larissa.

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