How to make a suitable training schedule for my horse?
Exercises make your horse more flexible and stronger, provided there is coherence in the exercises and they are repeated with the right regularity and are constructive. You can take care of this with a training schedule, but what should you take into account when drawing up a training schedule for your horse?
Starting point; the horse
No horse is the same and regardless of what you want to do with the horse (dressage, jumping, endurance or recreational use) your horse’s health should be at the top of your priority list. Even when you are not competing and you only use your horse for recreational purposes, it is important to train your horse regularly so that he can use his body (and mind) optimally in a relaxed manner and is not suddenly overloaded (risk of injury).
Before you start thinking about a training schedule, it is wise to take the following into account:
Determine the condition score
- Is your horse a little too fat? (nowadays most horses are) or maybe too thin? You can find out by doing a body condition check.
- You can also try to get a general overview of the muscles. Especially if you want to ride a horse. It is important to pay particular attention to the back muscles because they are a good indicator.
- Age of your horse is also important. Under 6 years of age, the horse is often still “growing” and ligaments, muscles and tendons are vulnerable. On average, it takes more than 2 years for tendons and cartilage to be sufficiently adapted to heavier loads. Above 20 years on average it takes longer for ligaments, tendons and muscles to recover and build. It is good to keep the training session shorter for these two groups. Furthermore, the older horse will probably need a longer “warm up”.
- Any problems in the form of injuries that the horse now has or have had are also important to take into account. They tell something about the weak spot(s) of your horse.
- Aim what you would like to achieve and what seems feasible for your horse.
4 types of training
1. The ingredients of your training session Endurance training: primarily intended for fat burning and endurance, is less intensive.
- trail rides > 45 minutes with moderate speed walk and trot
- walking with tho horse at a brisk pace
- make miles and preferably just straight ahead
- (By also alternately riding or walking on hard surfaces, this also ensures stronger tendons and ligaments).
2. Intensive training: primarily intended for muscle building. It is important to expand the training more and more, by slowly adding more repetitions. The best thing to do here is to first extend the duration of the training sessions and only later to increase the speed to reduce the risk of injury.
(if you want to have firm abdominal muscles yourself, you don’t do weeks only 5 sit-ups at a time, you build this every week doing some more). Also changing sides on time and having a sufficient break is important.
- Lunging or riding over poles or cavaletti
- Lunging or riding and switching a lot in gait and speed
- Straightening exercises (with more collection, in hand or while riding)
- Jump, multiple obstacles at a higher pace
- Riding canter in canter or short sprints
- Trailrides – with a lot of switching in pace – cantering
*Gallop is difficult for many horses because they quickly lose balance due to the elevation in the gait.
3. Active rest: the recovery of the body after exertion, on the other hand, provides a build-up. 5 days in a row of intensive training can therefore have the opposite effect.
Rest does not immediately mean doing nothing. A horse often does not move sufficiently on a meadow. Going for a walk is possibly better. Also on hard surfaces, preferably next to the horse. Of course 1 day a week, just pasture or only brushing the horse is also good.
4. Behavioral training: in addition to physical training, attention must also be paid to the mental side. The trick is mainly to keep the sessions fun, to keep every contact between you and the horse relaxed and pleasant and, above all, not to make it look like WORK. Before you can get to work physically with your horse, there must first be a good foundation. Without a good basic relationship and communication, there cannot be enough relaxation, which is essential for good training. See Basic Groundwork Exercises.
Often an exercise or activity must first be taught. This has less to do with the body of the horse and much more with his mind.
Example training schedule
As an example the schedule of my own horse (2015):
Starting point: gelding, 17, recreational, flexible and reasonable to good muscularity – but tendency to gain weight and extra attention for the abdomen and back. That is why in my schedule I pay more attention to endurance training and intensive training.
In addition to the starting point and the types of training, other matters are also important
- Vary the types of training sufficiently so that the body of the horse remains stimulated and the horse continues to like it. This is really the most important thing! this way you always address different muscle groups and prevent overloading.
- Provide adequate and appropriate warming up to warm the muscles and also a cooling down to allow the muscles to relax and cool down
- Gradually go further. Enough repetition of an exercise is important for real constructive training. 1 or 2 times per session is often not enough. Every training has a “intensity”. By crossing a border with this, training takes place. The trick is not to go too far across the border, but also not to stay under the border for too long. Where the limit is, is of course different per horse.
- Also use bodywork and mobilization exercises for your horse
- When knowing and to be able to do 75% of the exercise, the following exercise can be learned (new exercises at the end of the session)
- Think ahead (for example 2 months) and adjust your weekly schedule accordingly. But don’t pin it down to the millimeter, because that brings tension. Eg: when you consider that you have to ride today while you actually don’t feel like it, but yes…. tomorrow and the day after tomorrow you can’t. Your horse can feel that tension, so be flexible.
- Tune the nutrition well according to the performance. Large amounts of grainfeed are not required.
- Call in professional help if you cannot solve problems yourself and listen to your horse.
- Most important success factor is YOU!
It takes a lot of discipline and perseverance to maintain a training schedule. So it is not only good for your horse, but also for your own development! The trick is to keep it fun for yourself and your horse and not to make it look too much like “work”. You and your horse both have limits, respect them too.
Also look at the state of mind of your horse from day to day and be flexible to adjust your schedule accordingly.
You can write a schedule in detail, or you make a short note in your phone, for example. I make a short note in my phone so that I have a schedule for the week.
- The activity
- Duration (e.g. 45 min. Drive)
This way you can also easily keep an overview and look back on what and how you have trained.