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Pre-trail Horse Conditioning
Trail-Riding? - Condition your horse beforehand

The summer heat is upon us. We seek comfort on the horse-trails where breezes off lakes and rivers cool the air. Before you head out, if your horse has been confined to a stall or small pasture, consider whether he is in any condition to carry the two of you safely along the trail.

If you horse is not prepared beforehand, he can easily sustain sprains that interfere with his mobility for the entire season. Joints and muscles that have not been exercised lose their tone, flexibility, and carrying power. If you horse’s endurance is low, he can suffer heat exhaustion.

Ask your veterinarian to complete a thorough soundness exam to ensure that your horse is ready to go for an outing. Check out your horse’s balance, strength, flexibility, endurance, and responsiveness to your aids and develop an improvement plan so that your horse will be able to finish all his trail rides in fine shape.

By balance I am referring to a horse’s ability to shift his center of gravity backward, forward, and from side to side, gracefully, efficiently and without stumbling. A balanced horse can move his center of gravity effortlessly, pick up his canter leads easily, and bend around corners or in circles as the circumstance requires. To improve your horse’s balance ask him for figure-eights, circles, to walk over ground poles, and trot over small jumps.

Strength, or muscle-power, means a horse’s ability to propel himself and his rider forward. Well-toned muscles stabilize joints and reduce strain on tendons and ligaments. Strong muscles are required to negotiate hills. One of the best strength-building exercises for your horse is to find a little incline for your horse to that he can climb up and down forward and in reverse. Working over ground poles placed about four feet apart and small jumps will, also, increase your horse’s strength.

Good flexibility is necessary for horses to move their joints and muscles through their full range of motion. Flexible muscles and joints allow horses to move sideways and to bring their hindquarters underneath them to increase their carrying power. Begin gently, without force, to stretch and flex your horse’s limbs and joints when you clean his feet. Ask him to do lateral movements such as shoulder-in and side-passes. His flexibility will increase as his muscles relax, his joints open, and his tendons stretch. Horses who are flexible will be less likely to suffer sprains and other joint injuries.

Endurance, or stamina, is a horse’s ability to perform well for a long time. It requires a healthy heart and lungs to provide oxygen to his muscles. Improve his endurance by increasing the amount of time he exercises each day by five to ten minutes. Incrementally replace minutes of your walk-time with half that amount of time at a trot. If you hear your horse breathing heavily or feel his sides heaving after a five minute trot, let him go back to an easy walk. He is certainly not fit enough for a two hour trail ride. Horses’ endurance can be improved upon if exercise is increased gradually and thoughtfully.

It is always important that your horse is responsive to your aids. In an arena or other enclosed area, practice your gaits, transitions, and, especially, your halts. Do not wait until you are on the trail to find out if your horse understands and obeys your signals. A spooking horse that cannot be quickly brought under control is dangerous to his rider and every other horse and rider encountered on the trail.

Do not be so eager to hit the trails that your horse becomes exhausted, sore, or injured. If you properly prepare your horse, you will enjoy safer, happier trail rides.

UPCOMING BITLESS RIDING CLINICS

Bitless horse-rider teams practice ground & flat work, trail-riding, and traversing obstacles. An action-packed two-day experience!.

  • April 23-24
  • May 14-15
  • June 11-12
  • July 16-17
  • August 6-7
  • September 24-25
  • October 15-16
  • November 5-6
  • December 3-4

NEW! An optional third day of group practice with a half-hour private session will be offered at the end of each clinic. Space is limited! Auditors: $50 Riders: $200

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