Struggling to fit in rides around your work/life/family commitments, and when you do have time, feel uninspired by the same old routes or schooling sessions? These snappy, enjoyable and super-effective exercises from five-star event rider Sam Sweeney should revitalise your rides and optimise your horse’s fitness.

1. Interval training

Interval training will boost your horse’s fitness and stamina. It can be done in the school, but if you’re lucky enough to have access to decent turf, make the most of it and try this exercise there.

“Effective interval training can be achieved in just 20 minutes, which you can easily increase to 30 minutes as spring gets closer and the weather becomes kinder,” explains Sam. “Try for 10 minutes to start with [and build up as your horse gets fitter].”

Interval training is designed to strengthen your horse’s muscle and respiratory systems by a gradual increase in exercise levels.

“Your horse is asked to do repeated spells of energetic exercise interspaced with breaks for him to nearly recover his pre-work pulse rate,” says Sam. “Not allowing his pulse rate to go completely back to normal during the breaks is what achieves the strengthening impact.”

Start with three minutes of rhythmical, balanced canter work followed by three minutes of walk, repeated three times. Stay off his back while in the canter phase. Work sensibly with the size of arena or space you have.

If your horse isn’t very fit, you could change out the canter for trot work and make each interval shorter.

2. Tackle undulations

Hill work is a fantastic way to get and keep horses in shape. It’s a strenuous exercise, so you don’t need to be on a hill for too long to produce good results — ideal for short days.

“Going up and down hills in varying paces works all the different areas of your horse’s body, and burns calories too,” says Sam. “You’ll know yourself how strenuous it is if you’ve ever tried to run up a hill. I take every opportunity I can to ride on hills.”

For a horse who needs to build fitness, start by walking up and down the hill as part of your regular hacks.

“Hill work is a progressive exercise; only move on to the next level when your horse is ready. The next step is to trot up the hill and walk down,” explains Sam. “Ultimately, you’re aiming to canter up and, if the hill is long enough, you can gallop.”

To improve muscle strength and tone, walk and trot up the hill, putting in plenty of transitions while staying light and balanced in your seat. Let your horse stretch into the contact on the way up. You can also work within the paces, collecting and lengthening the stride.

“Going downhill works different muscles to uphill but it’s still very beneficial,” says Sam. “It requires a lot of balance. Walk down until your horse has learnt how to balance himself correctly, then try trotting slowly.”

3. Work laterally while hacking

Make short hacks count by schooling at the same time.

“Shoulder-in and travers/renvers are easy to ride on the road [traffic permitting, of course]. Ride ten steps
of lateral work followed by ten normal strides and then lateral work again. Mix it up to keep your horse interested and concentrating,” explains Sam.

Shallow loops are also a great way to keep your horse’s mind occupied and to keep him listening as you hack, and to improve his flexibility. Try weaving in and out of bushes and trees along a bridleway or in a field, asking for a bend as you would when schooling.

Try a little leg-yielding on the tracks too, moving your horse from one side to the other and back again.

Meet the expert: Sam Sweeney is an event rider who has competed up to five star level. 

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