Your trail horse may not qualify as an “elite athlete,” but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need careful conditioning as he makes the transition from a slow winter schedule to the active spring season. Keep these four principles of conditioning in mind as you ease him back into work:
• You need to stress your horse slightly—but only slightly—to increase his fitness. Push him too hard and you’ll risk injury. A good measure is his respiratory rate: Watch his breathing when you stop work; it should return to normal within two minutes. If it doesn’t, you’ve done too much.
• Increase either speed or distance with each session, but never both in the same ride. And it’s generally best to do long, slow workouts for a few weeks before you start any faster and skill-specific exercises.
• Remember that conditioning includes the musculoskeletal system as well as the cardiovascular system. Just because your horse isn’t huffing and puffing doesn’t mean his tendons and ligaments haven’t been stressed.
• Time off is important, particularly after tougher-than-usual rides, but standing in a stall can lead to post-workout stiffness. A better option is to turn your horse out the day after a hard workout, or if that’s not possible, take him for a short, easy ride, limited to walking and perhaps the occasional light trot.
This article first appeared in the May 2017 issue (#476) of EQUUS magazine