Exercising Your Horse
By Craig Sernotti
Exercise is an important aspect of horse care. It helps build and maintain muscles, allows you to bond with your animal, keeps him calm and happy, and done properly, keeps him in optimal health. Horses who aren’t exercised regularly can become uncontrollable and sick. If you plan to ride your horse in competitions, you must exercise him so that he is strong and tame enough to compete.
How Much and How Often
How much exercise your horse requires will depend on your horse’s age, breed, disciple, etc. Discuss this with your trainer or instructor and veterinarian to come up with an exercise program. All horses, though, should be exercised for about 30 minutes to one hour three to four times a week at the very minimum. If you can’t do this, you will have to hire someone in your place. You can ride your horse for up to six times a week if needed, but never push him to do a seventh day. He must have at least one full day of rest per week.
Warming Up and Cooling Down
Like humans, horses cannot just jump into exercise. They must stretch their muscles first before exerting themselves, or they may get hurt.
To start warming up your horse, first put on his riding equipment. Next, climb on and take him for a walk, either in a riding ring or on a trail. Be sure to make occasional lefts and rights so that he receives opportunities to stretch his neck. After about ten minutes, move into a trot. Complete several figure eights and circles so that your horse can stretch out completely. Do this for another 10 or 15 minutes. Once you feel that he has trotted enough, canter him for about ten minutes. This will help build up stamina and lung capacity. After your horse has cantered, he should be ready for jumps or riding practice or whatever it is you are training for.
Once your training is done, allow your horse to cool down. Take him for a walk. Once he relaxes and his heart rate slows, you can return him to his stall. However, he will most likely be dirty and sweaty, so you must groom and bathe him.
If you cannot ride your horse for his exercise, he can be allowed to roam free and graze in a fenced-in pasture. If he is social, he may run with other horses who may be grazing along with him. Offer toys for his consideration—giant balls and other objects may be pushed, nudged, and kicked around, sometimes with as much enthusiasm as a playful child.
If you’d like to take a break from the ring but still want to ride your horse, take him for a casual walk on a nearby trail (if one is accessible from the barn where you house him). However, before doing so, you should know your animal’s temperament and level of excitability. Count on small woodland animals running in front of your horse—having an idea of how he might react to this can prepare you for such possible encounters. He will also be exposed to new smells and sounds. Does he startle easily, or is he a calm, curious observer of his surroundings? Know before you go.