Reconditioning? Take it slow.

My name is Laura Francis, and I am currently preparing to start to bring my 16.1 thoroughbred gelding "Spider" back in to work for a three day event competition in four months time.Spider has been off work for about six months, due to school exams which prevented me from working him every day, so is really only "grass" fit.

Story originally posted by: Maggie Flowers

Dear Madam,

I would really appreciate any tips that you could give me about bringing a “grass” fit horse back up to eventing fitness.

Thank you for your time,
Yours Faithfully,
Laura Francis
Leighton Buzzard, England

Hello Laura,

Let me apologize for the delay in responding to your e-mail about your horse “Spider.” Now lets see if I can give you some exercises that your horse will find both enjoyable which are somewhat easy on him. I can appreciate that due to the length of time that has passed since you e-mailed, you’ve been doing just fine and he has come along nicely. For cardiovascular you know that the best way is to do hydro workouts, but if you can’t then alternative ways must be found.

Before any re-conditioning program is initiated, two evaluations should be done.The horse should be examined to determine what sort of conditioning will produce the optimum result. Since there is the three-step program of round pen work, treadmill work or a horse walker. On a five day schedule of four days of conditioning followed by one day off. Remember each horse is an individual and the program must be planned to the tolerance for work your horse can handle.

Round pen conditioning differs from round pen training. It introduces the horse back to patience and the idea of work outs. Each session should be last no longer that 30 – 45 minutes at the start and be increased by 5 – 10 minutes after a few days. Because round pen work is beneficial for taking weight off a horse, a horse that is slightly over weight or out of condition will only need to spend three days a week in the round pen. If the horse needs to gain weight or just simply maintain the weight but get rid of a grass belly, such as yours, will only need to spend a day or two a week in the round pen.

Treadmill work is slow, intense work and is excellent for adding muscle and bulk. It may be used every fourth day for horses that thrive on it and less for those that don’t. Introduce treadmill work slowly. The is always the possibility of frightening or injuring a horse. Spend the first two or three days simply walking he horse onto and off of the treadmill. When he is comfortable with looks of the machine and the feel of the belt under his hooves, turn it on at the slowest setting. Let the horse become familiar with the feel of the treadmill belt starting and stopping. After the horse learns to walk with the motion and is relaxed with its operations, set the machine at a fast walk for three or four minutes. Increase the session gradually, adding one to two minutes each time until the horse walks 15- 20 minutes per treadmill session. Fifteen to twenty minutes does not sound like much exercise, but treadmill work requires a lot of exertion and can be stressful to some horses. When you have worked your horse for 15 – 20 minutes this is equivalent to a 1 3/4 to 2 hour workout. And remember you are making the horse keep the same pace for the entire time.

The third method, horse walker, I only recommend it as a warm up preceding the workouts or as a cool down after work outs or for rehabilitating an injured horse. I personally don’t think it very beneficial for a horse that is in good health and needs to get back in shape. It is also good for teaching an young horse patience and to establish the need to work and be handled.

Other than the above mentioned, the other best way is to do ride out placing the horse through the various paces and maneuvers you would normally encounter during your three day event. However, don’t attempt to jump your horse until you have worked his impulsion or hind quarters to strengthen his muscle to execute the needed push and lift require for a safe jump.

Your ally is your common sense, use it relay on it and don’t ignore it. Sometime our common sense and the gut feeling one gets from time to time is the best judge of all our action. Trust your horse’s senses too. He should be the best judge of what he can, will and capable of doing or delivering. Done under estimate him and his power of decision making.

Good luck in your upcoming three day event. Let us all know how you did.

Maggie Flowers Training Director