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Conditioning Your Horse for the Trail

by Raye Lochert

Spare Your Horse the Unpleasant Side Effects of Being a “Weekend Warrior”

things like colic, tying up, and a variety of lameness issues all caused by a horse being out of shape. You wouldn’t want to go from watching TV all winter long to doing a 15-mile hike, and neither does your horse. So how do you get your horse in shape for a 3 to 4 hour ride or longer? Try this 6-week conditioning program which can be customized according to how your horse is managed in the off season.


The amount of time you will need to spend conditioning your horse depends on how he is kept. If he is kept in a stall or small paddock you may need to take more time in the conditioning process. If he is kept in a pasture of about 3 acres with a couple of friends he is in better shape than you think. In either case, a condi- tioning program is key. It does take time to condition your horse and most of us have other commitments to manage. Juggling everything is diffi cult and can be stressful. Do your best to prioritize. To start the conditioning process I usually go to the round pen

though lunging works, too. I start with three days of 20 minute workouts. If a horse has been in a stall I turn them loose in the pen for 5 minutes and let them move around on their own. This allows them to loosen up. If they are coming from a pasture I start the workout immediately. I ask for an easy trot controlling their speed with changes of direction. I trot them for at least 10 minutes. If they are very out of shape I will walk them from here, if not I will keep them trotting. It is important to watch for excessive sweating or heavy breathing. Don’t overdo it. After the third day I work them from the saddle. I start with a 5 minute warm-up walk. This allows their muscles and back to

20 May 2012 The Northwest Horse Source

warm up. From here I will work at the jog and trot for 10 minutes and then back to the walk. If I feel that they are doing well I will proceed to the jog/trot again for another 10 minutes. The entire workout for days 4 through 6 is 30 minutes. Conditioning your horse physically for trail riding is only about

a third of the game. Another component is mental conditioning. If your horse is young or inexperienced this is critical for their safety as well as yours. We have an obstacle course in one of our pastures with several man-made obstacles including a teeter totter, a hole in the ground, a trench, a bridge, tarp covered mattresses, and a trash pit (an area covered with crushed two liter plastic bottles). We also have some that are simulations of natural obstacles such as a pile of dirt and various log confi gurations. In the second week I will lunge my horse through the obstacles for 30 minutes taking time to train him through anything that might cause anxiety. I will have him go over and through these obstacles at a walk and then a trot allowing speed to increase his emotions. After this lunging exercise I will ride him again using the 5 minute walk fi rst then progressing to 20 minutes of alter- nating trot and canter work then cooling out with a 5 minute walk

rail riding is the most popular equine activity among horse owners. However, unfortunate side effects of a weekend on the trail can include


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