As most of us are under shelter-in-place orders or something similar, some of us (I imagine quite a few), are separated from our horses. Some are at least able to ride sometimes, while others are unable to see their horses at all. No matter where you are on that spectrum, remember that every ride lost is conditioning lost as well. There will be horses coming out of this with little to no conditioning left. Don’t let it stress you out! A lot of us are in or going to be in the same boat. Here is how to get started on your horse’s post-coronavirus conditioning:
-Walk! It might feel boring to those riders that are used to more fast-paced exercises, but walking is a huge part of reconditioning a horse after having a significant amount of time off. If you and your horse are starting off at square one, or you have a senior horse, start by walking for between 20-30 minutes. Don’t just walk along the wall—ask your horse for circles, half-circles, serpentines, and anything else you can do at the walk to get them thinking. Trail riding is another great way to get through the walking portion of the conditioning process. Increase the amount of time walking by a couple of minutes each ride. No matter what your discipline, event, or skill level, you’ll be walking for at least a little while every ride!
-On to the trot. Depending on the horse’s physical condition, start adding some trotting time after about 3-5 rides. For younger horses or horses who have maintained some muscle tone, start by adding five minutes of trotting, switching directions halfway through. For senior horses or horses who haven’t maintained their conditioning, start by adding 2-3 minutes trotting, switching directions halfway through. As with the walk, don’t just ask your horse to trot along the wall—have them do things that will make them think, like trot poles. Increase the amount of trotting time by a couple of minutes each ride, making sure to add some walking time after as a cool down.
-Cantering shouldn’t be added for more than a few strides in each direction until you’ve gotten up to about seven minutes of trotting in each direction, especially if you have a senior horse. This might seem like a stretch, but the canter is a physically demanding gait that the horse needs to be prepared for. When it is added, you should start with one minute in each direction and only add another minute or two per ride, making sure to add trotting and walking time after.
-Once the horse has had the canter added for a while and their conditioning has significantly improved, you can move on to your event of choice, whether that be barrel racing, reining, jumping, etc. Events that are more physically demanding will require the horse to be in its best physical condition, so keep a close eye on that before getting down to the difficult stuff.
As riders, we’re all in a bit of a pinch right now. Do the best you can with what you have and don’t be too hard on yourself if your horse hasn’t maintained conditioning through the Covid outbreak—you’re not alone! Be careful not to push your horse (or yourself) too hard too fast, follow your program, and have fun!