With the start of the eventing season looming, the fitness regime needs to be underway.
When getting your horse fit, many things need to be taken into consideration, such as how much of a lay-off they have had, age, breed, personality, and where you live and the facilities you have. Many don’t have horse walkers, gallops or schools, so you have to adjust according to what you can do, and each horse is different and needs to be treated as such.
But as a general rule, these pointers can get you heading in the right direction.
START OFF IN WALK - slow and steady.
Walk out to begin, starting with about half hour and building up.
Many folk only have roads to hack out on anyway, I personally hardly ever use roads because I've fantastic hills to ride on, but either way, hammering a horse on roads is never a good idea, so when you build up to trotting, the likes of William Fox-Pitt advise trotting on uphills only as this is less stressful for their legs.
But roads used sensibly is a fantastic starting block for strengthening their muscles and tendons.
From about 2.5 weeks onwards...
Start to introduce trotting, and after a couple of weeks move up to cantering, so you are very gradually increasing the length of your workouts and speed.
Riding where I do on hills is very hard work anyway, so when I start increasing the speed, I begin doing it on the flat ground so it is easier for my horses.
By the time the horses have been in work for about 10 weeks, they are cantering up the steepest hills steadily most days, and the last couple of weeks before they start to compete is when I start giving them fast work.
I usually give them a good blowout of fast work on a Wednesday/Thursday if they are competing on the weekend to get their wind right.
If you competing at eventing, they can be as fit as fleas, but if they haven't had fast work before you go cross country they will always come back blowing, as their wind and muscles just aren't 'right' and acclimatised to that speed of work yet.
We always say with our harness racers that it takes them a couple of races to be 'racing' fit!
But even when fighting fit, always incorporate 10 minutes walking at the beginning and end of every ride.
And remember, no matter what your facilities, even if you have no hills, no walkers, it's all about strengthening their muscles, so always make sure your horse works properly, travelling through from behind to really work their engine - their hind quarters!