Is your horse’s girth getting a little snug? Dr David Marlin shares the best calorie burning exercises.

The harder your horse works the more energy it uses, but clearly a horse or pony cannot gallop for 20 minutes. On the other hand your horse can walk for a long time but it’s not a great way to burn calories.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to count calories with your horse and know exactly what they’re burning when exercising. However, there are plenty of ways we can get our horses working to encourage weight loss.

More than maths

How hard your horse is working can depend on a lot of different factors:

Duration: Obviously the longer your horse is exercising the more calories are burned.

Surfaces: Soft surfaces are harder work than hard surfaces.

Terrain (hills): The least energy is used on a slight downhill slope. Hill work can significantly increase energy consumption. For example, trotting up a 5% incline is 1.6 times harder than trotting at the same speed on the flat. A 10% incline is over twice as hard as the same speed on the flat.

Rider weight: Exercising with a rider is clearly harder work than without a rider but a heavier rider also requires more energy to be used by the horse.

Weather: Exercising in the warmer part of the day will mean your horse uses more calories than if you exercise in the cool of the morning.

Direction: Turning uses more energy than exercising in straight lines. The tighter the turn, the more calories used.

Pace: Varying the pace/speed (i.e. speeding up and slowing down) uses more energy than exercising at a constant speed.

Transitions: Transitions between gaits use more energy than staying within a gait.

Gait: Each horse has a speed within each gait where it is most efficient i.e. uses the least energy. A slow or fast walk or a slow or fast trot use the most energy compared with a walk or trot speed in the middle of a horse’s speed range in each gait.

So which is the best exercise to burn calories?

The best way is to use a combination of trotting and cantering. So per minute of exercise, trotting (at 3.5m/s or 210m/min or 7.8mph or 12.6kph) uses 2.3 times as much energy as walking (1.5m/s or 90m/min or 3.4mph or 5.4kph) and slow cantering (7m/s or 420m/min or 15.7mph or 25.3kph) uses up to twice as much energy per minute compared with trotting.

Having said that going fast or slow within walk and trot can use more energy, this can also increase the risk of injury and is not advisable.

For more tips from David about maintaining fitness, read the full article in our latest issue.

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