Whether you’re heading out for a long trail ride, preparing for a riding lesson or going into a three-day event, your horse needs stamina. A horse whose stamina has been carefully developed will not only enjoy and recover from physical activity better, but may also be at reduced risk of injury. Developing your horse’s stamina is a gradual process, but with these five tips you can start focusing on increased stamina today.
Incorporate a Conditioning Program
When preparing your horse for an upcoming event, like a long-distance trail ride or a three-day event, you’ll need to establish a conditioning program. It’s important to start this program early on – stamina development isn’t something that you can rush – and a program that’s measured out will help ensure you don’t push your horse too hard, too quickly.
Focus on gradually increasing the physical demands that you ask of your horse, and make sure to schedule your workouts so that your horse always has a recovery or light day after a particularly challenging workout. Record this program in a journal or calendar, and share it with anyone else who is working your horse — like your trainer.
Focus on Hill Work
To develop your horse’s stamina and muscle strength, incorporate hill work into your riding routine. Hills can make for a challenging workout that’s also low-impact on your horse’s joints. Always start hill work gradually with lots of walking, and as your horse grows stronger, start to incorporate trot or canter sets.
Use Ground Poles and Gymnastics
Ground poles and gymnastics can also make a workout more rigorous for your horse and help to develop muscle strength. Incorporate trot poles at short heights, then gradually raise up the heights as your horse grows stronger and develops the precision needed to navigate the poles.
Gymnastics are also helpful, even if you ride a discipline other than jumping. Gymnastics set at a low height can make for a cross-training opportunity that helps to develop muscles your horse doesn’t use as often, making him stronger and giving him better endurance, too.
Introduce Interval Training
Interval training is an important element of any conditioning program, and it incorporates brief periods of high-intensity exercise that are interspersed with longer periods of lower-intensity exercise. Interval training needs to be done carefully, since introducing too many, too long high-intensity intervals early on can leave your horse sore or even injured.
As you increase your interval training, monitor your horse’s performance for signs of fatigue. Keeping track of the duration and frequency of your intervals in a training journal can help you to monitor your horse’s progress and adjust the intervals appropriately. Even if your horse is going along well in the program, if he has a few off days or seems to lack his usual energy, back down on the interval training and start to rebuild slowly again.
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