How to choose a horse exercise plan
Maintaining a commendable quality of life for your horse can sometimes be tough, especially without any guidance. As a horse gets older they are far more vulnerable to disease and illness that could potentially threaten their later years. It’s daunting to think that keeping your horse in good health when they are much older depends on how you’ve treated them right from day one. Training routines are vital in preventing conditions like arthritis and diabetes, which can be very common for inactive horses.
We’ve recommended a 9 week progression plan focusing on different levels of intensity and frequency, to help bring your horse back up to the level you know they can achieve. Its split into three sections: Intro work, schooling and cantering, and technical or speed work. You’ll move from some simple hack work on week 1, all the way through to some jumping, gridwork and galloping at week 9. Steady progression is vital for confidence building.
To substantially improve your horse's fitness you need gradually work and progress over a period of weeks, to ensure that your horse’s body can adjust to the increasing demands of exercise you are introducing. While it could be tempting, you should never take shortcuts. A sudden increase in work can lead to injuries like pulled or torn muscles, which will only set you back further and result in more time off.
It's important to remember that every horse is an individual and there are lots of factors to take into consideration when tracking a horse’s progress. The age of a horse will determine how much work they can cope with, and their physical experience will alter the complexity of the tasks they’re able to complete. You need to take previous injuries into consideration too, as any weaknesses are likely to show up during a reintroduction phase.
Planning a regime is essential and it’s a lot easier if you break your routine down into three elements:
Slow work to harden up bones and tendons
Work to improve strength and stamina and basic fitness
Faster work to prepare for things like cross-country
By working through these stages chronologically your horse will become competent enough to perform regularly in a variety of disciplines.
Plans should always be worked around what’s best for you as well as what you think your horse can cope with, both mentally and physically. You should always remember to give your horse a day's rest weekly, whilst giving them regular turnout time so they can stretch, relax, play and just be a horse!
After a period of time off, the best thing you can start with is some relaxed hack work. Up to four weeks of progression is really helpful here as it prepares your horse’s body to move again. Hacking over various terrains and using hill work helps to condition muscle, build stamina and keep your horse thinking forward.
Here is a sample "back to work" horse exercise plan:
Week 1 – Hack work in walk (lunge work when unable to hack)
Week 2 – Increase hacking, longer sessions and more frequent exercise
Week 3 – Increase hacking further, and add in some trot work
Week 4 – Same as week 3. More trot work (maybe add in 15-20 mins schooling if needed/unable to hack)
SCHOOLING AND CANTER
Week 5 – Start schooling, beginning with 30 mins max. Continue with hack work:
2x 30min schooling, 2x hack & trot work, 1x 30min pole/gridwork, 1x lunge.
Week 6 – Increase time schooling and introduce canter work when hacking
2x 45min schooling, 2x hack with a 2 min canter, 1x 45 min jump work, 1x lunge.
Week 7 – Build up canter time, including hill work. Continue schooling, introduce more jump work
2x hack with one 5min canter and one 3min canter, 1x cross country jump schooling (if available), 1x 30min hill work, 1x 45min jump/gridwork, 1x 45min schooling.
Week 8-9 – Continue current work and introduce fast work (strong canter and controlled gallop, working on changing gears within the pace).
Never think of any exercise plan as a list of musts, these are guidelines. If needed you may need to do more work on weak areas, so you need to be flexible to change. Listen to your horse, if they lose concentration in the arena, school less and do more hack work. If you think they need something to focus on do more schooling or gridwork.
Horse exercise plans should always be worked around what you need to do.
You can see more of Erin’s tips and advice including some great videos, on the Strides Eventing YouTube channel: