Fitness programme for event horses

Ensure that you’re ready for to get this season off to a flying start with our specially designed fitness programme for event horses.

To compete in eventing, your horse needs to be fit enough for the job

To compete in eventing, your horse needs to be fit enough for the job

If you compete in eventing your horse will need to be fit enough to do the job. With this in mind, he’ll need plenty of road work at the start of the season. This might state with road work, for example, horses might be ridden in walk on the roads for one hour a day, for a total of four weeks. Walking is really good for your horse’s heart, lungs and for hardening his tendons and it doesn’t have to be dull. While you’re in this roadwork only stage, use the time you spend on board to ride suppling exercises such as shoulder-in. You can also work on riding transitions from medium walk to free walk on a long rein and back to medium walk.

If bad weather makes it hard for you to get out on the roads, you can work in an arena. Do lots of stretch work, ride lots of big circles and plenty of changes of rein. Use this time to get your horse soft and swinging through his back.

Hill work

Use hills to your advantage when building your horse's fitness

Use hills to your advantage when building your horse's fitness

With four weeks of roadwork under your belt, gradually introduce hill work and light schooling once or twice a week. Alternate the days spent hacking, schooling or doing hill work with sessions on the lunge – you might like to lunge your horse, perhaps even in a pessoa or bungee. It’s important to work your horse without any weight on his back – this also gives you a good opportunity to see how they’re working from the ground.

Interval training

Interval training is a great way to build up your horse’s heart rate. Use ‘Set 1’, below, for one or two weeks in the earlier stages of your fitness plan before your horse is ready for some more intense work. Then move on to SET 2.

SET 1

Ride in a brisk trot, on good ground in three intervals of six minutes with a walk break in-between. As your horse’s fitness and consequent recovery rate improves, up your intervals to four minutes. Make sure your horse is working in a good, forward rhythm and that he’s straight. Change the diagonal every so often too.

SET 2

When your horse is ready to work that little bit harder, try using this second set, maintaining a good rhythm in each pace:

  • 20 minutes: Walk
  • 10 minutes: Brisk trot
  • 5 minutes: Walk
  • 2 sets of 3 minutes (3 minutes of walk in-between): Forward canter
Grid work will help to improve your horse's balance

Grid work will help to improve your horse's balance

Some horses respond better to sprint work that opens their pipes rather than long intervals of strong and steady canter. On these horses, ride short bursts of fast canter instead.

Grid work

When you begin your canter work you can introduce some grid work. Start with a placing pole followed by a cross pole and build up your grid with bounces and doubles. Concentrate on jumping straight and in a good rhythm to improve your horse’s balance. When your horse reaches the desired fitness level, maintain it with canter work (interval training/sprint work) every four days, regular roadwork (and time spent on a walker if you have access to one), grid work and regular schooling.


Feeding for fitness

Expert advice to keep your horse fit from the inside out:

  • Pick the right feed for your horse’s job
  • Only feed for the work your horse does – don’t increase feed unnecessarily
  • Always introduce new feeds gradually
  • Consider supplements, such as electrolytes, when your horse’s is working hard and competing
  • Speak to an equine nutritionist if you’re in doubt about your horse’s diet

5 of the best bridleways in the UK

We have some truly awesome bridleways for horse riders to explore, here we’ve picked just five of the best bridleways in the UK for you to saddle up and explore.

If you have a recommendation for a ride, we'd love to hear it! Simply add your tips in the comment section at the bottom of the page.


Gallow Hill, Stranraer, Scotland

Take one look at this picture and you simply won't be able to deny that this is one incredible place to hack - just look at those views! Leave your worries behind as you enjoy a canter up to the top of Gallow Hill and then take a moment with your horse to take in the stunning views. This recommendation came from Your Horse reader Steffanie Singleton. Here's what she had to say:

Steffanie Singleton loves riding her horse Chuienne on Gallow hill

Steffanie Singleton loves riding her horse Chuienne on Gallow hill

"This is my favourite ride of all time! There’s a pretty steep climb to conquer from my yard to the top of Gallow hill which is great for building stamina and if the fields have been cut for hay they offer the perfect opportunity for a good  blast up to the top.  The views from the top of the hill are breath taking, you can see for miles out to sea, I often let my Mare, Chuienne, stand and graze while I admire the views and feel the stresses of the day drain away.  It’s a great ride, a little bracing in the winter time but during the months of nice weather there’s no better place to be. It’s usually very quiet too and you can make it as long or as short as you wish. If you want a longer ride then there’s a track which leads you through some woods and back around to the fields for another good gallop. It’s such a relaxing ride and I’m so lucky to have it right on my doorstep."


The Cotswold Hills

Think of the Cotswolds and images of honey-coloured stone cottages and rolling grassy hills spring to mind. The choice of routes to hack or drive is endless with miles of quiet lanes and bridleways to explore, not to mention The Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.In this area you’ll plenty it’s one of those picture-postcard villages you see in all the guide books! Not to mention pretty village pubs (perfect for a quick stop!).

Hacking in cotswold village

We’ve been recommended a lovely hack starting in the village of Stanton. Here’s what our seasoned hacker Richard Marshall (pictured right) had to say about the area:

“Once out of the village, the climb up the Cotswold escarpment uses ancient paths and bridleways through grassy fields. Depending on your mood, it’s either a walk or a pipe-opening gallop! Eventually, you’ll emerge onto the gently rolling upland and follow a circular route that has plenty of variety. There’s some road work along quiet country lanes – ideal for a bit of impromptu schooling. There’s also a long uphill canter on sheep-mown grass that’s great for building stamina. There are ancient trackways to conjure up images of a bygone age. Part of the route follows the Cotswold Way National Trail back along the escarpment beside beech woods. On a clear day there are distant views of the Brecon Beacons and in the summer the sound of skylarks fills the air.”

Find out more

For a selection of BHS access maps around this area CLICK HERE

Cotswold Riding at Jill Carenza Equestrian offers a B&B that's perfect for horse riders who are keen to explore the area. If you're keen to explore the idea of a mini riding break in the Cotswolds, definitely check this out.


The Pennine Bridleway National Trail

Explore some of Yorkshires most beautiful scenery

Explore some of Yorkshires most beautiful scenery

The Pennine Bridleway in Northern England runs roughly parallel with the Pennine Way. It can be used riders, cyclists and walkers and offers lots of scenic routes through beautiful part of the Yorkshire Dales.

The complete route of The Pennine Bridleway National Trail runs from from Middleton Top in Derbyshire to The Street in Cumbria. It passes through the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks, using tracks, quiet roads and the new bridleway itself.

For useful information on planning your route CLICK HERE to visit the National Trails website.


Rider gallops past the Copper Horse, a statue of King George III

Rider gallops past the Copper Horse, a statue of King George III

Great Windsor Park

Not an easy access bridleway but one that is possible to explore with a permit, and who wouldn't want to enjoy a hack with a royal twist?! The recommendation for this ride came form Your Horse reader Helen Taylor. Here's what she had to say:

"Not many people are lucky enough to spot a royal on their weekend hack but it’s a possibility when hacking in the grounds of Windsor Great Park. I have got a glimpse of Zara and even the Queen herself in the past. You really feel like you’re somewhere special hacking here, there’s so much to see. There are also coffee shops to stop at for a drink which is nice when you’re out for hours. The park covers about 4,800 acres so you’re ride can be anything from thirty minutes to three hours long. In the summer when it’s dry you’re free to roam on the grass but during the wetter months, you have to stick to the roads and tracks which isn’t a problem as there are so many. The sand tracks are great for cantering on; Rupert loves it and does get a little quick! There are a few different permits you can get, some allowing you access to the forest which is well worthwhile."

To find out about the different permit options, visit The Royal Landscape website (www.windsorgreatpark.co.uk/en/activities/horse-riding).  The park does not issue day permits for horse riding within Windsor Great Park - you'll need an annual Permit. All Permit holders will be able to access Windsor Great Park via forest tracks and will also be able to ride in Swinley Forest.

Join a group ride

Tally Ho Stables in Winkfield, Windsor specialises in taking riding groups of all abilities for gentle rides and exciting hacks through the beautiful Windsor Great Park. To find out more visitwww.tallyhostables.co.uk/riding-and-hacking


Totternhoe Knolls

Nature reserves, ancient monuments, wonderful views and historic landscapes - there's plenty to enjoy when riding around Totternhoe in South Bedfordshire.  What's more, a brilliant network of bridleways, starting at Stanbridge Ford, means you can saddle up and get lost for hours.

This recommendation came from Your Horse reader Alison Grant. Here's what she had to say:

Riding around Totternhoe Knolls offers plenty of opportunities for a blast

Riding around Totternhoe Knolls offers plenty of opportunities for a blast

"This ride never gets boring. I moved away for a short while during that time and I really missed it. One very quiet road leads us here from the yard and then it’s off-road all the way. It has absolutely everything – it’s a very relaxing ride. I always say it’s a perfect Friday ride to blow away all the cobwebs and free your mind from the stresses of the week. There’s a real variety on this ride – you can do a quick short loop or extend it and potentially be riding around for hours. It’s been a real confidence builder for me and Bally and I just love it. There’s plenty of opportunity for a blast or just to take it steady if you prefer. The ride takes you down a long stretch of disused railway track, which is surrounded by trees and wildlife. Then there’s a very open part of the ride – with a huge quarry on one side of you and endless fields on the other. The beautiful chalky hills are great for a good gallop and building stamina, and the views from the top are spectacular.
It’s utter bliss!"

Got a tip for a great place to hack?

Share your tips in the comments section below...

Riding tips from Lee Pearson

Lee Pearson

To help you train for a major dressage competition, Lee Pearson MBE. OBE. CBE and multiple Paralympic gold medallist answers a few questions put to him by Equisafety owner, Nicky Fletcher.

How do you warm up?

Do you start ‘long and low’ or do you walk for 5 minutes stretching and starting to make the horse do exercises such as ‘shoulder in’?

LEE SAYS: I do lots of walk and then break this up with little bits of trot. I don't insist on ‘long and low’, I’m just more focused on if the horse is accepting the bit on the leg. But, when warmed up, the horse gets regular opportunities to stretch long and low in between being in a competition outline.

How long before you start really working your horse?

My horse, Oscar, takes a good 20 minutes before I get proper work out of him. Is that because he is not fit enough, or is that about the right time for a large 17hh to warm up?

LEE SAYS: I treat every horse as an individual. For example by the time Zion has done walk exercises, little bits of trot, and underpowered stretching canter it normally is about 25 minutes before he is ready to be totally engaged and permanently in a competition outline ready for any movement asked of him.

Does the size of the horse determine the time needed for warming up

No, not really. I think age, fitness, any stiffness and any schooling issues can influence the warm up more than size.

Lee pearson with horse

LEE SAYS: What bit do you use when you are schooling and what type of nose band do you use? I use a loose ring snaffle with lozenge and flash nose band.

How long should your session be?

Once the horse is working correctly, how long do you keep up the high level for?
Would it be around 20 to 30minutes?


LEE SAYS: Yes between 20 and 30 minutes is about right.

What is your routine for “cooling” the horse off?

LEE SAYS: Stretching in Trot and Canter and then lots of walk with different neck positions.

How fit is fit enough?

How many months before a major competition such as Rio, do you start thinking about increasing your horse’s fitness.

LEE SAYS: To be perfectly honest I don't increase fitness. However, what I do is more schooling within a weekly programme, which includes lunging and hacking and days off.
Q8: Do you ride longer to increase fitness, or more times in a day with more intensity?
I don’t school more often in a day to increase fitness, I just school on more days.

What does your horse fed on?

Is this altered at all nearer a major competition such as Rio? For example will his feed increase? Is he on hay / haylage or anything else?

LEE SAYS: The horse has no change of food before any competition. I feed Dodson and Horrell ERS pellets, Alpha A oil plus and Dodson and Horrell Haylege.

Is he turned out in the field and if yes, for how long?

LEE SAYS: Yes - all day and sometimes night.

Lee Pearson hacking horses

Is your horse regularly hacked out?

...to increase stamina, to chill out or both?

LEE SAYS: Yes I regularly hack out (and yes, I wear my Equisafety hi-vis!). The change of scenery is beneficial for me as well and the horse. 

How do you stop your horse getting bored?

Is he ever jumped, or does he do something different in the area?

LEE SAYS: Lots of hacking out keeps him, and me, from getting ‘dressage bored’ to be honest. He’s never jumped – he’s rubbish at it!!

Do you lunge your horse regularly?

...and if yes, how long and what is the routine?

LEE SAYS: Yes, he’s lunged at least once a week and he’s worked like he would be if he was being ridden.