Wiola's Fitness Plan

By Wiola Grabowska

Rider Advice

23 February 2012 09:00

Depending on your resources and facilities I would try to incorporate the following into your weekly routine:


Step 1

- Slow distance work - start with 20-30min of walking (out hacking ideally or roadwork if it is safe enough for you and your horse). Increase the time slowly over a minimum 3-4  weeks period until you are doing 1-1 ½ h walking a day.

- Pole work (this can be done in-hand or ridden. There are many books and articles on using poles and cavalettis in training horses. I would get hold of one or two and chose the exercises that seem fun and interesting both for you and for your horse. Pole work improves balance, coordination, proprioception, helps the horse to use his back and neck muscles and makes him generally more focused on where his feet are.

- Long reining - fabulous way to get fit not only for the horse but also for the rider! If you are unsure how to long rein your horse, book a few sessions with someone who can show you the ropes. It’s a fun and educational exercise which gives you much better control over your horse’s straightness than lungeing.

- Lungeing - less useful than long reining but you can make it interesting to the horse by lungeing in walk on a slope/field, over poles and cavaletti and by moving with the horse so you are allowing straight lines as well as circles.


Step 2

After a few to several weeks of slow distance work you should be able to introduce trot work and simple schooling into your plan. You could have a look at British Dressage’s Walk and Trot tests for inspiration on figures/exercises to ride but always listen to your horse and don’t push him too hard at this stage.

Continue paying attention to your horse’s straightness and try to progressively address his crookedness in both walk and trot.

To continue working on improving your horse’s cardiovascular and muscular systems you can introduce hillwork in trot.

If you are not lucky enough to have access to some gradients, you can wait until your horse is fitter and have a go at Interval Training. There are many guides on how to conduct this training so try to get hold of one and start from a few simple repetitions to get the hang of the method. You can make it as simple or as scientific as you wish and you will get to know your horse better in the process.

You can continue lunging and introduce trot work over poles and cavaletti. Start with few minutes of trot on each rein and increase that time slowly.


Step 3

If all went well and you were able to work your horse 5-6 times a week you could be ready to introduce canter work after 3-4 weeks of trot work.

At this stage I would also want to yet again do all the vital checks of the tack, horse’s health and muscles development.

Your schooling sessions need to focus on the quality of your horse’s work. You could start having 30 minutes weekly lessons to help with structure and progression in your schooling as well as to make sure your seat and effectiveness matches the improved work of your horse.

Pay attention to your own straightness  and suppleness as asymmetries in your body will sooner or later show in your horse’s body.

As to specific exercises: although you say you don’t compete you can still use dressage tests for inspiration and to practice schooling according to the Training Scale.

You could also introduce small jumps and gridwork to give your horse another challenge and for you to work on your balance and coordination.

Every time you increase training demands try to observe your horse’s mood and wellbeing. There will be times when you need to push him a little harder but you will then need to observe how quickly he recovers both mentally and physically.

Ensure suppleness and straightness are always on your mind when schooling and maintain your own via exercises like Pilates, Yoga or a visit to a Chiropractor/Physio to learn more about your own asymmetries and how to work on them.


Good luck!