Conditioning your horse for summer and fall trail rides – part 1
Summer officially begins with Memorial Weekend. The weather gets warmer, days are longer and there’s more daylight for trail rides. Your horse ought to be in good shape by now and in most parts of the country, the weather is nice enough to continue trail riding well into October. If your horse isn’t in shape for those enticing four or five-hour trail rides, what kind of fitness program can you start with?
If your horse has been outside with other horses in a space that allows at least three acres of “running” room per horse, he’s probably been more active than you think and he can be ready for long trail rides in about a month. If he’s been stabled with limited turn out or in a small paddock space that doesn’t encourage play, it may take longer to get him in shape.
If you live somewhere that makes it difficult for your horse to be turned out for extended periods of time, a tread mill or hot walker can help get your horse in shape as well as reduce boredom.
If your horse is ridden three days a week and kept in a large pasture with other horses the other days that will provide some basic conditioning. The following schedule may be too intense for some horses and not enough for others.
Week 1: 30 minutes per ride with 10 minutes trotting/ 5 minutes cantering
Week 2: 30 minutes per ride with 10 minutes trotting/ 10 minutes cantering
Week 3: 40 minutes per ride with 15 minutes trotting/ 10 minutes cantering
Week 4: 40 minutes per ride with 20 minutes trotting/ 10 minutes cantering
Week 5: 40 minutes per ride with 20 minutes trotting/ 15 minutes cantering
Start with 30-minute rides and gradually, over a four-week period, work up to 90 minutes per ride. And, if you can, ride 4 days a week. For the first few rides, walk for 15 minutes of the ride and trot for 15 minutes, breaking those minutes up into any increments you’d like. Over time you can add canter work.
A good four-week goal is 90-minute rides with 20 minutes at the walk, 50 minutes at the trot and 20 minutes at the canter, again, broken up and ridden in any order you’d like.
As your horse’s fitness increases, the above schedule will become easier for him. He won’t become “winded” as easily, his body will become more muscular and he will be “forward” and eager in his work for longer periods of time. You can also go on shorter trail rides and increase the length of the rides.
Once you’ve gotten your horse fit, it will be fairly easy to keep him in shape. Horses retain their conditioning easier than people do. Ride him three days a week with continuous turnout all year, and he’ll be in great shape. And check with you trainer to make sure what schedule is best for you and your horse.