Going the Extra Mile: How to Safely Recondition Your Horse
What do show jumpers, barrel racers, pleasure drivers, and recreational trail horses have in common? They all need to be fit for their task at hand.
Regardless of if your horse is used for high-level competition or weekend trail riding, or whether he is coming off an injury, the winter, or is just underdeveloped, the key to getting any horse fit is conditioning. While each horse requires different conditioning techniques, the key to a successful program is to start off slow based on his current fitness level.
Starting back slowly and increasing your horse’s workout progressively each day as he gets back into shape will help prevent injury or re-injury. For a lower-level horse that has been out of work for two to three months or more, the frequency and duration of exercise should be limited to start—15-20 minutes. It should also include a lot of walking and walk-trot transitions.
Think of your horse’s reconditioning as the equine form of the Couch to 5K program. The amount of time and frequency you can increase should be based on his sweat levels during each work out, and the rate at which his respiratory and heart rates go back down to normal when at rest. This means it is important to be familiar with your horse’s vitals at rest.
“During exercise, the heart rate ranges between 100 to 150 beats per minute depending on whether you’re trotting or cantering,” according to Dr. Kirstin Bubeck of the Hospital for Large Animals’ Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery Service. “After exercising, it is important that the heart rate reduces rapidly during the first minute. Then it reduces steadily during the next five to 10 minutes to around 50 beats per minute. It can take 20 to 30 minutes to arrive back at the resting heart rate measured in the stall.”
However, because the cardiovascular system is the first to respond to exercise stress, it is important to consider these other factors when conditioning your horse:
- Muscle fatigue/condition—A horse with a previous fitness level and/or a good body condition will gain fitness faster.
- Skeletal fatigue/condition (bones, joints, tendons and ligaments)—Age (young or old) and health level (previous or current injuries) also play a large role in a horse’s ability to get fit and the time it takes to do so.
- Hoof condition—A balanced trim and appropriate shod will help build balanced muscle and prevent injury.
And let’s not forget outside factors as well, including:
- Feed program— Energy, vitamins, and minerals may need to be increased in a working horse.
- Weather—if it is extremely hot or cold when you are reconditioning your horse, this will affect the amount of time he can be worked.
At the starting gate, outline your personal goals, then plan a conditioning program based on your horse’s starting point and the demands of your discipline and riding level. As your horse gets increasingly fit over time, he’ll be able to maintain longer periods of trot, canter, and gallop with less fatigue while practicing in your discipline at a more demanding level. Remember that all systems must be equally durable to prevent injury, and, keeping all of this in mind, you will be well on your way to having a fit and sound partner.
- Cummings School
In This Issue:
- Digesting the Facts: About Equine Ulcers
- Blue Ribbon Review: Peppy
- SPOTLIGHT ON: CLINICAL TRIALS – Regional Limb Perfusion of Gadolinium Contrast Material in Equine MRI
Don’t forget to mark your calendars for our annual open house at Cummings School’s campus, set for September 20 at the Cummings School campus. This is a great family event with activities for kids of all ages as well as adults, plus a chance to explore the campus, mingle with our faculty clinicians, and more! Check out this year’s list of activities.
Share Your Story
Your horse could be a star in the 2016 Hospital for Large Animals wall calendar! After much success with last year’s contest and receiving dozens of uplifting stories, we have decided to create a 2016 calendar—once again filled with your success stories!
In Case You Missed It
Horses that were previously fit will recondition quicker.
An appropriate fitness level is key for a healthy and happy horse, regardless of discipline. Make sure you’re on top of your game with our conditioning tips
This article appeared in the August 2015 issue of our email newsletter – Cummings Equine Chronicle. Sign up for the newsletter and receive information on timely topics featuring our experts at Hospital for Large Animals.