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.


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.


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