The British Horse Society (BHS) has advised that unnecessary pressure should not be placed on the NHS during the current climate. Many people have decided to put down their tack and take a period of rest... However, this advice from the BHS does not mean you cannot keep your horse fit and have fun at the same time.
Whether you're following the BHS advice, are short of time, or restricted by the weather, here are 5 ways you can keep your horse fit from the ground, and there is not a saddle in sight!
It may sound bizarre to some, but many people take their horses for walks in hand when they can't tack up and ride. Leading your horse in hand is great exercise for the both horse and rider - it is also a great way to bond face to face with your horse. If your horse is difficult to handle on the ground, this method of exercise may not be effective or safe, it totally depends on the type of horse you plan on exercising.
Turnout is an easy and simple way your horse can get some exercise without the need for you to be present. Turnout allows your horse to stretch off and loosen their muscles - great if you've had a tough workout in the arena prior. Turnout is also an excellent method in helping with the management of behavioural difficulties and stall boredom. You may well be aware, stalled horses can pick up nasty vices that are annoying and hard to eliminate... Turnout can help manage these vices and make your horse happier overall.
Stretches are a great way to improve your horse's strength and flexibility, not to mention, they're super fun too! Make sure you have sufficiently warmed your horse's muscles up before you proceed to stretch - you don't want an injury on your hands!
First up, if your horse is food orientated, hold a carrot, or your horse's favourite treat, at their shoulder (left or right) - make sure they bend their neck to receive their reward. Switch and do the opposite side so you are working the body evenly. If your horse decides to cheat and turn a circle, try conducting the stretch against a wall. This stretch is great for improving shoulder suppleness and improving those circles when you're saddled up and onboard! After performing this lateral stretch, try holding a carrot between their legs and making them bow down to reach the treat. This is one of our favourite stretches, as it is great for all levels and abilities. If your horse is new to stretching, start off by bending lower to the floor as an easier option, and with progression, raise the treat up towards their chest!
Remember, stretching is not a replacement for any professional treatment such as physiotherapy, it is merely an exercise that can improve suppleness and work on your horse's flexibility!
Lunging & Long Lining
If done correctly, lunging can be incredibly beneficial to your horse's fitness. According to the FEI, lunging should not be conduced more than 3 times per week, as it could have damaging effects. However, they do advise that a lunging session, once or twice a week, could be useful in developing fitness levels.
Lunging is a great fitness method that takes the usual weight of the rider off your horse's back. Lunging is essentially based on a circle and can be very strenuous if the said circle is small and tight... Start off with large circles and ensure your horse is warmed up before you rein them in to work on a smaller circle.
Long Lining is perhaps a better option as you can do more than just a circle... Long Lining is more closely related to riding as you have the two reins attached upfront that mimic the same communication you have when holding the reins onboard. Long Lining gives you the freedom of working around the whole of an arena/riding space, with the added benefit of being able to add in various moves and lateral work.
There is plenty of lunging equipment on the market to assist in the development of muscle and fitness levels - these training aids are great if used correctly and not abused/over used. Take a look at some of our training aids to assist in the development of your horse's fitness!
Free schooling is also a great way to get your horse fit! It involves making them move around freely and in doing so, finding their own natural balance... It is also a fantastic way of letting them blow off a bit of steam, have a quirky buck and a little play!
We are sure there are plenty of fitness exercises and routines out there that you can adopt, an incorporate, into your horse's fitness routine. - we have tried to cover the main ones above. We hope we have provided you with some inspiration to get your fitness routine going!