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Whether you want to make the most of the summer weather with longer rides, have a fun ride in mind or fancy giving endurance rides a go, your horse will need to be fit enough to cope with longer distances.
Focusing on fitness now means you’ll reap the rewards once the warmer (and hopefully dryer) summer weather turns up.
But it’s not just about leaving the yard and seeing how far you get. When planning your horse’s training, you need to keep in mind the mileage, terrain, and the time spent in each gait. If your horse is older, carrying a few extra pounds, or is coming back into work following an injury, it will take longer to improve their fitness, so don’t feel pressured to rush into each stage.
“It’s best to work at a lower impact and go for longer than push too hard or too fast too soon and end up with an injury,” says Rachael Claridge, endurance rider and UKCC coach. “Also don’t forget to warm up and cool down properly.”
Month 1: Walking out
“I’d recommend starting with a month of walk work,” says Rachael. “In this time you can work on half halts or extension to keep things interesting. If you’re struggling with your confidence or can’t ride for whatever reason, don’t let that stop you. You can still tack up your horse, pop on your high vis and head out with them in-hand – your own fitness will benefit too.
“I would suggest starting with 30-45 minutes of walk minimum, to 90 minutes maximum, during the first month if your horse has been out of work.
“You also need to take into account how much muscle mass your horse has, their body condition score, and if they are coming back into work following an injury.
“Native breeds have a denser muscle mass and so may take longer to get fit as well. Therefore don’t push them too hard too soon.”
Month 2: Time for trot
By the second month, it is time to bring in some trot work.
“Start by introducing five to 10 minutes of trot work in short spurts throughout the ride. Then gradually increase this to 15-30 minutes during a one-hour outing. Again, split this up into smaller chunks dotted throughout.”
Month 3: Introducing canter
If this is going well, in month three you can introduce canter.
“If you can add a couple of minutes of canter in then that’s your next step,” says Rachael. “If you’re lucky enough to have routes that allow it, you can build this up to 15 minutes of canter at various times during a 30-90 minute hack.”
The key to successful fittening work is to build up the time spent trotting and cantering gradually – it’s crucial not to overdo it, and equally build up how often you take your horse out during the week with care and careful thought.
Meet the expert: Rachael Claridge is an endurance rider and UKCC Level 3 coach who has represented Great Britain in European and World Championships. She is based in Gloucestershire, and now coaches riders from Pony Club and Riding Club to Mongolian Derby competitors and international athletes. Visit rachaelclaridge.com
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