Conditioning your horse for the upcoming show season does not have to be a long drawn out process. But you need to remember that after four months of winter your horse is going to have a little more flab to loose then he did at the end of fall and some of his un-worked muscles are going to get sore when you start working him again.
If you have ever been to a gym or suddenly, had this great idea for fun, and decided you should take a hike up a mountain then you know how your horse will feel when you start his conditioning program. So you need to remember that your horse will also be feeling like he has been to the gym at the end of a long winter, so starting your conditioning program gradually is the best way for both you and your horse to get back in shape.
If your horse has been out in a large pasture for the winter then it will take you probably about a month to get your horse ready for the show season. When your horse is out in pasture he has a tendency to move around more than one being stalled all winter so his overall condition will be better than the horse who has been in a stall for the winter. The horse who has been in a stall will probably need two to three months of conditioning to be ready for the show season.
For the stalled horse you can begin your conditioning before the end of winter actually gets here. I know many places across the country will still have snow but normally there will be roads and areas that are traveled frequently that you will be able to use. You can use these areas to start exercising your horse by just hand leading him up and down the road.
This is also a good time to remind your horse of the word whoa and how to backup in a straight line. Just remember that while leading your horse up and down the roads you will also be gaining some good exercise. The other way you can help condition your stalled horse is to use a round or bullpen for your horses exercise routine. Just be sure that there is no slippery ice or snow inside the pen before you start. You will probably need up to three weeks of this type of exercise to be equal to the pastured horse.
One of my favorite ways to condition my horses is by using the Pessoa Lunging System. This system was invented by Nelson Passoa who was an international show jumper. The idea behind the system is to encourage balance in your horse while getting a gradual build-up of the horses top-line.
It is based on the principle of pressure and release. It places the horse in a better position to assist muscle build-up, and increases use of the horse’s back muscles.
By using this system you are able to work your horses without you even touching his mouth. You start your horse at a low top-line and gradually bring him up over a course of several months. So by lunging your horse you can not only strengthen his top-line, but also build muscle tone and stamina. I like to do this in my large arena so that the horse is able to go on a straight line as versed to a constant round circle. It is also easier for your horse to learn to balance himself at the canter on a straight line.
Before you start any exercise program with your horse whether he is pastured or stalled the winter there are a few things you need to address first. Being your horse has not had a bit in it’s mouth for several months it’s always good to check his teeth and have them floated if needed. For those of you who pull your horses shoes at the end of fall to let them stretch out during the winter months you will need to have the farrier come and trim their feet and have shoes put on for the start of the season. The last thing you need to do is assess your horses general health and if you have any issues address them before you start working with your horse.
Once you are able to start working your horse in carriage you should start with 15 minutes a day with a walk – trot – walk session has a warm-up period. If you have gone your 15 minutes and your horse is blowing and breathing heavily then you need to make it a shorter session until he can do the work in the time allotted. The basis of this warm-up period is to help send the blood to the muscles and the legs so that they get warmed up in the still cool days and help the tendons become loosened thereby avoiding any health issues.
After each session you need to have a cool down period of just walking, this can be anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes depending on your horse. I have found over the years working with my horses, that a schedule of three day on and a one day off works, works well with them. As your horse starts to get fit you’ll want to add more time to your daily session for a maximum of approximately one hour of working. You also want to add, to your walk – trot – walk session, a canter section to help increase his heart rate to be able to achieve maximum conditioning. When you start adding the canter sessions start with just one or two minutes of cantering and then go back to the trot or the walk. At first I would only add a couple of these canter sessions into your workout and as your horses condition improves you will be able to canter for longer periods of time.
If you really want to keep track of how your horse is doing in his conditioning then the purchase of a Polar Equine Belt that goes with the Polar RS800CX watch would be one way to accomplish this. The watch is normally used for us humans to keep tract of pulse and respiration’s during exercise. The system has been adapted for the horse so that you can watch and track his P & R during his workout. It also comes with a computer program that supplies you with charts and statistics of your horses progress.
There are also other adaptable apps for your cell phones that can also work.
The following is what your horses pulse should be at different work modes, remember theses are just approximate numbers:
Resting pulse 40 beats per minute
Moderate work 75 to 100
Heavy work 101 to 200
Recovery should be 10-15 minutes to less than 60
If it drops to 44 to 52 than work can be increased
If above 70 then work was to hard
These are just guidelines and if you have any questions than consult your veterinarian.