Horses are active animals that need regular exercise to thrive. They have evolved to graze acres of land a day, which necessitates constant movement and stamina.
Ideally, your horse should be getting exercised every day, even if this takes the form of being turned out with other horses rather than being ridden, but the daily workout will depend entirely on your horse’s workload and the condition/fitness of both of you.
It is possible to over-work a horse, so getting the balance right is important.
What are the benefits of exercise?
As well as increasing your horse’s endurance and stamina, routine exercise will improve the functioning of many, if not all, bodily functions. This includes the functioning of the heart and lungs, the muscles, tendons and ligaments, the immune system and digestive tract.
Exercise will also help keep your horse mentally alert, resulting in better coordination and quicker reflexes, and prevent behavioural problems which are often associated with confinement.
The stages of exercise:
- The warm up – this is critical if you are to avoid injuries. As with humans, the value of sufficiently warming up before exercise shouldn’t be underestimated. By starting off slowly, your horse will start to relax and move more freely. A simple walk or trot for 10-15 minutes is usually all that’s needed. If your horse is already turned out before the workout begins, this will serve as part of it.
- The workout – the intensity and duration of this will depend on several factors. If your horse is a performance or competition horse, the exercise will revolve around a particular focus, such as jumping, for example. Horses ridden for pleasure may experience a variety of exercises, including lunging, hacking and pony trekking. You should judge how much exercise is enough by how much energy your horse has at the end of the session. You want your horse to be challenged and exercised in both body and mind, but not to the point of exhaustion.
- The cool-down – this stage is often overlooked but it as important as the warm up. Following the workout, a period of relaxed walking will help cool your horse down and get the heart rate back to normal. In warm weather, the cool-down should take place in a shaded area.
Things to consider before exercising your horse:
- Think about what the goal of each session is before starting. This can be as simple as how you want the movement to look and feel.
- If your horse is struggling to meet the goal, cut it in half to something smaller and more achievable. Make that your new goal for the session.
- Take a walk break if you continue to struggle, then try again.
- When the goal is achieved, finish for the day.
- If you plan on repeating the exercise the following day, leave your horse with a bit of energy in the tank so he is keen to go again the next day. You don’t want him to be so mentally and physically drained that he’s unhappy to see you back again so soon!
- Irregular and sporadic exercise can lead to tying up and injuries.
- Exercise within your horse’s capabilities and don’t over-stretch him. If there is something you want to achieve, build up to it gradually.
- If you don’t have the time to exercise your horse, increase turnout (although this comes with its own problems if grazing is good) or consider getting a sharer.
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