Whether your horse loves their grain a little too much or you're training for a competition, exercise plays a key role in every horse's routine. Exercise can be as simple as turning your horse out into their pasture for an extra hour or as structured as lunging them in the arena three times a week. Continue reading to learn more about how to exercise a horse, as well as resources on where to find the best horse training equipment.
How to Keep Your Horse in Shape
Here are our top 11 fitness exercises for horses you can use to build your horse's muscles:
1. Hacking or Trail Riding
Hacking and trail riding are great leisurely methods to exercise your horse. Both involve light exercise at a walk or gentle trot, either on road surfaces or designated trails. Steadily walking and trotting helps your horse in many ways, including:
- Strengthening your horse's tendons and ligaments.
- Improving your horse's stamina.
- Keeping your horse entertained and mentally fresh with a change of scenery.
- Understanding how different footing affects your horse's balance and coordination.
As your horse practices these skills and gets stronger, you can adjust the difficulty by walking uphill or choosing a more challenging trail.
2. Hand Walking
A reliable method to exercise your horse is hand walking. Hand walking is fairly straight forward, but there are some friendly reminders to ensure your safety:
- Use the right halter and lead rope: Make sure you're walking your horse safely by using a halter that fits your horse properly and a strong lead rope. These are your two points of control, and you don't want to sacrifice their reliability.
- Avoid looping the lead rope around your hand: As you walk your horse around your stable or arena, avoid looping the lead rope around your hand because if your horse spooks, you risk injury.
- Ensure your horse's neck is to your right side: It's important that your horse stays politely by your side — if they lag behind and spook, they can accidentally run you over if you're in their escape route. Or, if they're ahead of you and a fly lands on their back, you risk being kicked.
3. Turning Your Horse Out in the Pasture
One of the easiest ways to exercise your horse's muscles is by turning them out in the pasture. Horses are limited to the space they can walk and travel when in their stalls. When they're in their pasture, they have much more room to roam and stretch their muscles. Use turnout time as a way to activate or cool down your horse's muscles before or after intense exercise — like after a lesson or rigorous trail ride — to prevent injuries.
4. Lunging and Long Reining or Long Lining
The Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) recommends your horse is comfortable on a lead rope before graduating to lunging, long reining or long lining. And, if you have an excited horse, it may be beneficial to let them burn off some steam in their pasture before doing any rope work.
Lunging and long reining are similar in that they require lunge lines and whips that attach to a horse's bridle, as well as guidance from you, the trainer. However, lunging is circle-based, while long reining requires you to walk behind the horse using long reins, hence the term "long reining."
Both are great methods of exercising your horse while bonding with them and building their self-confidence.
5. Free Schooling or Loose-Schooling
Free schooling is similar to lunging, except you're not using a lunge line. It requires a strong line of trust and communication between you and your horse. If you have a rowdy horse, make sure they master lunging or long reining before advancing to free schooling.
Free schooling is a great way for your horse to learn how to move and stay balanced. Plus, you get to watch them as they learn, earning a better understanding of their movements and how your own body movements influence their behavior. And, of course, your horse gets good exercise!
6. Hill Work
A great way to strengthen your horse's cardiovascular endurance is by doing hill work. Hill work involves walking your horse up and down hills, which can quickly have them breaking a sweat. Think about how much more challenging it is for you to walk up a hill than on a flat surface — your horse experiences the same effects. Walk your horse uphill by hand, or spend some time in the saddle and walk them that way.
7. Interval Training
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a popular form of exercise for both equines and people. HIIT involves alternating periods of high- and low-intensity exercises with slow recovery phases in between circuits. Doing this trains your horse to exercise for longer periods before getting tired, which benefits your horse with more beneficial workouts, lower risk of injury and weight loss. Plus, it adds variety to your training regimen that makes exercising fun for your horse.
8. Horse Driving
Horse driving involves hitching a horse-drawn vehicle to your horse using a harness. People use horse driving techniques mainly for driving, racing, farm work or horse shows, but you can use the technique for exercise, too. Consider investing in pulling equipment and taking your horse out for a ride for leisurely exercise — just be sure you're using the right harness, so your horse comfortably carries the weight.
9. Horse Exercise Machine
A good way to exercise your horse is using an exercise machine. A horse exercise machine looks similar to a round pin, except there are special barriers installed that rotate around the round pin and encourage a horse to move forward. The great thing about horse exercise machines is the amount of control you have. You can choose how fast your want your horse to walk or trot, which way and for how long. Plus, most horse exercise machines allow you to safely exercise more than one horse at a time.
10. Gymnastics and Poles
If you're looking for a fun way to increase your horse's fitness, consider using gymnastics and poles. Set up an obstacle course around your arena or land, including poles and bases, that your horse can maneuver around or over. Obstacles keep your horse's mind and skills sharp, requiring a good rhythm, balance and stride to maneuver around them.
11. Pony Your Horse
"Ponying" your horse involves leading one horse when riding another, especially popular when exercising a young horse. It teaches your horse a few things, including:
- How to respond to signals and body language.
- How to work with other horses.
- How to adjust to ropes, tack and other equipment.
Before ponying your horse, make sure they're ready. Some steps to prepare your horse for ponying are making sure they're comfortable with lead ropes, equipment touching them and being directed via lunge line and free schooling. Doing this gives them, and you, the necessary skills to better juggle all of the steps associated with ponying — handling two horses at once using both a lead rope and reins, all while in motion.
Browse Exercise Equipment and Accessories at Horse Tack Co
Horse Tack Co specializes in all things equine. We have a wide range of products, ranging from saddle and bridles to lunge whips and breakaway halters. Keep your horse healthy by browsing our products online. All of our products are organized by category so you can easily find what you're looking for, like horse training aids.
Have any questions? Our friendly team of equestrian professionals is more than willing to guide you to a solution that fits your needs. Visit our online contact form, or come see us at our New Holland, Pennsylvania, location.