With the UK’s lockdown and Covid-19 restrictions set to ease over the next few months, there are competitions on the horizon — but is your horse ready for action? At the recent World Horse Welfare webinar, Pippa Funnell and Mark Todd discussed how to prepare your horse for competition.

“There’s so much uncertainty around Covid-19 and when competitions will start, and you can look at it in two ways. You either plan to start in April and have the horses fit and ready, or you wait until you know when competitions will begin and then start their fitness work,” says three-time Badminton champion Pippa Funnell.

“I prefer to get ahead of the game so I know the horses are fit enough to go when we can. Fitness can’t be done in a hurry and requires a slow build up over several months.

“Once you’ve got your horse fit they won’t suddenly lose it and you can keep them ticking over.”

When getting horses fit, Pippa believes in spending as much time out of the school as possible and varying their fitness programme.

“I do lots of hacking and am fortunate to have access to some lovely fields with testing terrain which is wonderful,” she says.

“I love riding on different surfaces and cambers because eventing is about that. One minute you’re on sand, the next in mud — it’s not just about being on pristine gallops,” says Pippa.

Double Olympic eventing champion Mark Todd is fortunate to have plenty of safe hacking near his Marlborough base.

“I do roadwork to build up fitness before going into the school, but I know roads can be tricky if you’re in a busy area. Be creative and see what you have available; you don’t need an arena, you can do fitness work in a field,” he says.

Interval training

Incorporating interval training into your horse’s exercise regime can be beneficial as you seek to improve their fitness.

“Interval training’s about varying the pace which you can do in a field or in a small area, like a 20x40m arena,” explains Pippa.

“Shorten your stirrups, get out of the saddle and imagine you’re going cross-country down the long side, then sit up and collect the horse down the short side.

“Remember to change the rein. Building little jumps into interval training helps fitness too.”

“Don’t only look at your watch when interval training; get into the habit of feeling how the horse is going and how quick his recovery is. Go on the soft side and slowly build up.”

While varying the terrain is good for horses, it’s important to consider the condition of the ground you’re using.

“To keep a horse fit over the years they’ll do a lot of work, so if you’re using uneven or hard ground it’ll take its toll,” advises Mark.

“Never go trotting over rough or unlevel ground, as it’s too easy for the horse to turn a joint, for example.”