Updated: Mar 9, 2021
One of the main things that I learned since owning my own horse is how hard it is to keep them fit. It might sound easy, but it’s not, especially if you don’t have a lot of land. So these are my few tips for keeping your horse fit and healthy.
Horses are supposed to walk around ten to twenty miles every single day. In the wild, they would travel this far to find food and water. If we translate that to time, you’re talking nearly seven hours of walking a day. If you have a lot of land, then they will get plenty of walking naturally.
Where Carrie was being ‘broken in’, she was at a place that had around seventy acres. Yes, seventy! That was the fittest I had ever seen her. Even as a baby, she was quite fat because she was being fed every day but not really exercising enough. At this new place, there was no big fitness regime but there was a herd of horses who were free to roam the land. It was truly something spectacular to see.
Most of us don’t have that luxury. Now she’s in a paddock that’s just over two acres and sharing with a donkey. There’s enough space for them officially and they seem happy enough but there is no way that they are going to walk ten miles by themselves. Walking around the perimeter of the field takes only five minutes. The majority of people also don’t have the time to exercises horses more than two hours a day (unless it’s your livelihood).
For a long time, I didn’t have a structured plan for keeping her fit. We would just exercise a bit every day and challenge ourselves to achieve different goals. However, following her lameness exam, I was presented with instructions to build up her fitness slowly, starting from five minutes walking a day and only increasing the time by five minutes every week. So, I sat down and made a plan.
I looked in the BHS books (British Horse Society) to get an idea of how much a horse should be exercised a day and it turns out, if you’re competing, you should be exercising them twice a day for about an hour each time. Sadly, that’s not doable for me so I made my own way.
We started walking for five minutes every day, which as I said before is like one lap of the field and that was interesting enough for Carrie. However, when we got to the thirty-minute mark, she became a bit rebellious. It wasn’t fun to keep walking around the field, but she wasn’t yet at the point where we could include pol-work or even trotting. So, I tried to treat the field as a large arena and break up the session into ten-minute chunks. That would mean putting some cones out, changing the diagonal, doing twenty-metre circles, that kind of thing. There were times when I’d do fifteen minutes leading, fifteen minutes long-reining to help break it up.
When it came to trotting, I started with just five-second intervals. Then slowly built it up to ten seconds. A lot of horses start with one minute but I didn’t want to push her and I think it’s important that you take into consideration your horse’s lifestyle. It’s better to take it slow and steady, building up their fitness/stamina gradually so that you can both enjoy working together.
The final point of consideration is general care. Make sure they aren’t being overfed or underfed. Check their muscles and give them a once over before you start working with them. If you have any doubts, contact equine professionals whether it’s the vet or your farrier; whoever you think is best suited for the starting point.
At the end of the day, it’s supposed to be fun for you and your horse. You should come up with some kind of “lesson plan” for each session so that it isn’t boring for either of you but that you also have a goal you want to achieve. There’s a lot you can do in-hand to prepare and then you can get them used to carrying the weight of the tack, and eventually move on to riding in order to keep them fit!