4 principles for safely conditioning  your horse

Keep these things in mind when easing your horse back into work.
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Keep these things in mind when easing your horse back into work.

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