Through my time rehabilitating horses with injuries, one of the things I have noticed is that a lot of the horses have looked weak in their musculature, or uneven in the musculature, so I can start to see how the injuries may have happened.
Horses have not evolved for us to ride them, and they are actually a pretty poor design for riding!
They are big animals so I think it’s easy to think they are strong. However, size doesn’t alway mean strength. Are they actually strong enough to be ridden? Do they have enough muscle to carry themselves, the tack and the rider? Are the spinal and pelvic joints strong enough to carry this weight?
If we apply human fitness/exercise regimes to horses, we wouldn’t go from zero exercise to running around for half an hour on a different surface to normal!! We would make a plan, start with a small amount of time a few days per week at a gentle pace, and progressively (and safely) build up the time and intensity towards our goals over many weeks. Imagine wanting to run a 5k race from zero fitness level - what would you do to prepare? You wouldn’t start with running 5k!
So with horses we can apply the same sort of methodology - give them time to build their cardiovascular fitness, respiratory fitness, muscular strength, coordination, core strength, bone density, recovery rates. We then give the horse the best chance to be able to do what we are asking, and not get injured.
If your horse has had time off, or had an injury, or never been fittened properly, he will need time to adjust to exercise and strengthen up before he is asked to carry a rider around.
I have transformed horses in 6 weeks by walking. Yes just walking. Walking in a good, correct posture, with a comfortable body, and on a progressive walking plan can be a hugely beneficial foundation for horses.
The other part of conditioning to consider is purpose, so what do we actually want our horse to do? There will be benefits to your horse by you considering what actual skills your horse needs, and therefore what sort of work will benefit him.
Cross training can be beneficial for horses, so a mix of work, using different muscles and skills, and different surfaces. Doing the same sort of work every day ie. schooling on an artificial surface every day, risks repetitive strain type injuries due to overuse, so mixing up the work by adding in hacking, hill work, long reining, lunging, in hand work, fast work, jumping, whatever is appropriate for their level of fitness, can positively influence fitness levels, muscle strength, recovery rates, bone density, core strength and flexibility.
I hope this helps as a start point for considering our horses body a bit more in amongst what we as the rider wants to do with them. I have seen lots of injured horses so have the benefit of seeing the patterns that occur with them.
Cross training for most horses is a great strategy to use, so that we don't risk overuse and degenerative injuries.
Please get in touch if I can help with discussing any of this with you! Jenny x
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