Boost your horse’s fitness and strength with hills

Hill work is a fab way to get your horse fitter and build strength in his muscle. Here, event rider Ibby Macpherson explains how she includes hills as part of her horse’s training.


“Hillwork is something that you can build up gradually,” explains Ibby. “I like to incorporate it into my hacks and also after some schooling. For example, if I’m looking to improve my horse’s fitness, I might school for a bit and then canter up a hill.

“Start gradually and work your way up. Once he’s feeling fitter, you can always increase the number of times you canter up the hill.”

Boost your horse’s fitness

Walking up and down a hill might sound easy, but it can be hard work for your horse, especially if he’s out of shape.

How hills up your horse's stamina

Walking uphill engages your horse’s hindquarters. The steeper the hill, the harder he has to work.

Done correctly, it can be just as valuable as fast work as your horse has to concentrate on his balance.

How to ride it  

While out hacking with your horse, start to incorporate walking up and down hills into your route to boost your horse’s fitness.

Use common sense when upping his workload – if he’s panting too hard, ease off and walk along the flat.

When you feel he’s ready, try trotting up and down the hill, and then progress eventually to canter. Including different transitions can also get him flexing his brain, as well as his muscles.

Strengthen your horse

Usually an exercise restricted to the arena, serpentines are a great exercise for encouraging your horse to bend and listen to your aids.


As Ibby explains, riding serpentines on a hill adds an extra level of difficulty.

“If you’ve ever tried to walk straight along a hill, you’ll notice that the leg that is higher up the hill is doing more work,” she says.

“Serpentines are a great way to avoid this imbalance. They require your horse to work on both reins, so you’ll work both sides of his body and strengthen all of his muscles.”

How to ride it

Start your serpentine in trot at the base of the hill and loop your way up to the top.

Focus on keeping a light seat and riding your horse with your body and legs, rather than pulling too much on the reins.

Start in walk if required and build up gradually.