With the news of outdoor sports hopefully resuming on March 29th, 2021, that gives us around 4 weeks to get ourselves and our horses fit enough to be able to compete. However, that does mean arena hire and training shows are not able to start until March too and if like me you don’t have access to an arena and the fields are still too wet to work in then I have a few handy tips to help you on the way to being competition ready. I am very much an amateur who competes at BE90, show jumps at 100 and competes at Prelim/Novice level dressage, I hope these tips will be useful for whichever level or discipline you are at.
Hacking shouldn’t be dismissed as a part of an equine fitness routine. If you are bringing your horse back into work after a period of rest, a period of 2 weeks in walk built up slowly from 15 minutes per day, increasing to 60, will be beneficial. Gradually add in some hill work ensuring you walk, not trot up the hill. If your horse is at a medium level of fitness, you can combine a mixture of walking and trotting up the hills.
I work my horse 5-6 days a week and in the winter, I have to be a little bit creative with the routine. So, one day I will find a route that has a couple of steep hills and trot these, not too quickly and ensuring my horse is working through his back not just running up the hill through his shoulder.
Another day I’ll find a route that I can include some canter work, if the ground isn’t too wet a good couple of minutes in canter a couple times a week will help towards your fitness goal. I’ve found a hack that includes a steep hill where the terrain is quite rocky, I like to use this hill in walk as it means my horse can’t rush up it but also has to use his hind to push up it and consider his footing.
For my hill work and canter work I’ll put my stirrups up two holes and go into a light cross-country seat for the canter work helping myself build my lower leg strength. You can add in lateral work to your routine with a series of leg yield in walk and trot across a flat and safe path and ask your horse to work on the bit on 75% of your hack but still allowing them down time and encouraging free walk on a long rein.
Even simple things like asking them to turn from your leg and stepping underneath themselves to undo a gate will be beneficial. You can also break the routine up a bit by long reining your horse once a week for 15-20 minutes, long reining isn’t just for youngsters and it will help you build up your connection with your horse along with muscle for them.
Another aspect you can add to your training is hydrotherapy, the use of water treadmills has become increasingly popular but if you can’t access one, you can find water in most places in the countryside whether its paddling on the shore of a public lake or through a stream, this will help to build your horses fitness and to cool their legs- just make sure you know the ground underneath and your horses fitness capabilities.
If you don’t have access to an arena but do a flat grass space suitable for schooling on, once the ground dries up enough, you can continue with the hacking fitness combined with flatwork, lunging, groundwork and jump training for a varied fitness regime. Along with the fitness aspect, hacking is a relaxing way to build up your relationship with your horse and see the countryside from a whole different aspect.
Regional Reporter - South West England
I’m Alice and I’m an amateur event rider living in Cornwall. I work in marketing for a travel company and run an equestrian yard (Glenview Farm) at home with my mum. I’m a bit of a wonderer and enjoy exploring the countryside either on horseback or with my Jack Russell, Isla. There’s been times I’ve struggled with my mental health but having a focus and commitment to our animals has helped me. I’ve always found writing a form of therapy and thought it was about time I put it to good use.