2016 February Fitness Month
Getting your horse Fit
When getting a horse fit you need to take into account, the age of the horse, it’s breed, and how long it has been off for. Don’t forget to warm both yourself and your horse up properly before starting and remember to cool down properly at the end.
Here is a rough guide to getting your horse ready for the season ahead:
Week 1: Walk out under saddle, starting with 30mins and building to an hour per session by the end of the first week.
Week 2 and 3: Increase hacking time to two hours by the end of the 2nd week, starting with some short bursts of trot but only when going uphill. This takes the pressure off the forelimbs and helps to increase both cardio fitness as well as encouraging tightening of ligaments and tendons. You can start to strap the muscles at this point to help build good muscle condition.
Week 4 and 5: At this point the introduction of some school time is advisable. It is a different type of surface and can allow some canter work. Schooling should be restricted to big areas, no tight turns at this point. School work should be done alongside hacking work.
Week 6 and 7: Increasing the length of time spent in the school and encouraging tighter work. You should aim to introduce some fences at this time. Bounces and pole work are useful here to help get a horse more flexible. This is also the time to start with short bursts of galloping, as this will help with cardio fitness. Short bursts up gallops once a week, gradually lengthening the distance over these two weeks.
Weeks 8 to 10: This is now the time to start going out to small competitions, this allows you and your horse to build confidence together.
Feeding for Fitness
Every horse (as we know) is different but when getting a horse fit, it is important to take the nutritional requirements of the horse, their age and work load into account. Here are a few handy tips and suggestions to help with the nutrition of your horse:
Feed according to size of horse and workload: More work, requires more energy, and more food. However when starting to get your horse fit it is better not to feed it too much from the start of the exercise programme as this can cause problems leading to an attack of the “satan’s little helper” which can be hard to deal with from the saddle.
Keep a check on your horse’s condition: By fat scoring regularly you will be able to tell whether your horse needs to gain, lose or maintain weight. This information is vital when working out how much you should be feeding your horse. It is also worth remembering that an overweight horse which is lacking energy is unlikely to benefit from a higher energy feed.
Feed little and often: This imitates the horse’s natural feeding pattern, and achieves satisfactory digestion by ensuring a constant passage of food through the digestive system. Feed plenty of bulk and roughage as this ensures that the digestive system is always adequately filled, as would be the case in the wild.
Do not make sudden changes to the diet: Horses are classed as hind gut fermenters. This means that their large intestine and appendix (caecum) are used to break down a lot of their food by using bacteria that naturally occurs in this part of the horses digestive tract.
If changes to the diet are made too quickly especially if the new feed is high in sugars then potentially it can causes disruption of the bacteria which in turn can lead to metabolic disorders such as colic, diarrhoea and high temperatures.
Work and feeding: It is not advisable to do fast work immediately after feeding. Increasing the heart rate and asking large muscle masses to work hard after feeding, takes the blood supply away from the stomach this can lead to digestion being impaired.
Provide a constant supply of fresh water:
Finally: Remember that many leisure horses may only need the addition of a vitamin and mineral supplement rather than a concentrate feed.