Different ways to exercise your horse

core engagement exercise Oct 08, 2020
There are more ways to exercise your horse than purely riding/schooling! Swapping a few days out for other activities with your horses can be hugely beneficial to their body, mind, and actually your relationship with your horse too!
In-hand work or groundwork: you can do SO MUCH in this type of work with your horses, whether it’s teaching them straightness, teaching them lateral work from the ground, or teaching them not to bump into you (!), this type of work will really benefit your ridden work.
I find that when I use in-hand exercises on a regular basis, horses become more symmetrical, you can actually see and feel their avoidance techniques from the ground, and therefore you can work on correcting them, and you develop a much more refined method of communication between you.
You can correct their posture
You can teach your horse to engage his core
Horse becomes more symmetrical
Increased suppleness and flexibility
Horse learns to use his body better without a rider on board
Horses enjoy this type of exercise
Increased relaxation levels
You are using your horses brain in a different way!
Everything is slowed down, giving you both time to process
Less stress on the horses body
Walking. Yes walking! I have transformed horses posture and muscular development just with walking! Quite often in rehabilitation a fairly lengthy period of walking is required at the beginning of the process, and I have seen horses completely transform just with hand walking.

Hand walking: of course your horse needs to be walking in good posture and using himself correctly, but this is always my ‘go to’ exercise if I need to strengthen a horse!

Hand walking around your yard, up the lane, in the school, wherever it works for you, and you can walk out in a training aid like the Equiami to encourage good posture. So on a day the you don’t want to ride, or you’re short on time, or can’t get in the school etc, go for a walk instead! 20-30 mins walking a few days per week is hugely beneficial!

And I like to consider this as ‘power walking’ - no dawdling round, a good, forward power walk has lots of benefits:

Stamina building
Cardiovascular fitness
Low impact on joints etc
Non ridden exercise
Can be done in straight lines if this is what is required
Useful in the winter months when horses are stabled more

So whether you are rehabbing a horse, looking for additional forms of exercise, managing a senior horse, or considering a plan for the winter months, hand walking can be used - and it’s good for us humans too!!
Hacking / hill work: I know that lots of people hack out, but a lot of people don’t too. Hacking is very beneficial for our horses, particularly competition horses that spend a lot of time in the school. Just working in an arena most of the time can be detrimental as horses can develop overuse / degenerative injuries, so strengthening your horse in a different way can actually benefit your end goal.

Considering my previous tip about walking - hacking can be walking out, ‘power walking’ up slopes etc, going over different terrains if you have access to this, and any of these scenarios are super useful for building stamina, core strength and cardiovascular fitness!

Stamina: adding some hacking into your routine can build stamina for schooling, jumping or competing
Cardiovascular fitness: increasing heart and lung function
Core strength: as long as our horses are working in good posture, hacking can be used a core strengthening exercise
Bone density: bones strengthen due to the mechanical stresses put on them
Different surfaces: building agility, good proprioception (brain to body communication)

Hill work: again, huge benefits here if you can find some slopes or hills to ride up, obviously not too steep, they are not mountain goats (!), power walking up a slope is SO good for them! They have to engage their core and push from behind - 2 really important things that we need to encourage our horses to do.
Lunging:  Lunging can be an effective form of exercise for your horse, if done properly, your horse is moving in correct posture, and it's appropriate for your specific horse.

So what do I mean by this? Well...if your horse is running round you as fast as he can with his head in the air, this is not helpful exercise at all. But if we can slow the horse down, ask him to walk and then jog, in good posture, the exercise session can be much more effective and much less damaging to the horse.

The picture is my horse Azuro, he is lunging in the EquiAmi lunge aid, which helps to train good posture. He is lifting his core, stretching down, and working over his back.

By now you may have heard me rave about the benefits of walking...sometimes I lunge only in walk!

You can get really inventive with lunging if you wish, including poles, training your horse on voice commands, working on transitions etc.
Fast work - cross country, hills, cantering, gallops

Faster work might not be your 'thing', but it can be super valuable for horses... a 'pipe opener' is exactly that, opening the respiratory system up fully!

Many eventing competitors do gallop once a week specifically, so that when they need gallop in between fences at a competition, there is enough in the tank, so to speak!

Cross country riding, whether jumping or not, is usually up/down slopes, and sometimes uneven ground, this is good for proprioception (brain-body communication).

Obviously fast work needs to be safe, and your horses needs to be fittened and strengthened towards fast work to prevent injury, but it's definitely something to consider with your work plan for your horse.

increased cardiovascular effort
increased respiratory system function
increased blood flow
increased oxygen to muscles
leading to increased fitness, stamina, strength if used regularly

I really hope you have enjoyed my 5 tips this week, on different ways to exercise your horses!
I have the Equiami lunge aid available through my shop, as well as their lunge cavesson, and I teach all about postural correction and core training aids in my online training course 'Engage your horses core', more details through the Training page on my site. 
Please get in touch if you need any help with any of this.
Jenny x

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