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Think About Building Fitness

Spring is about here and we all are excited to get our horses out and gear up for the coming season’s adventures and events. A word of warning, a lot of injuries can occur in the spring due to bringing a horse along too quickly too soon.

I think a lot of times we envision horses as these big creatures that can endure stress and physical activity effortlessly and easily. And although this may be true to some extent, horses do need to be brought along just like any human being does in the beginning stages of physical training. A lot of times I believe horses are not brought along properly and instead are drug out of pasture or worse yet, their 12x12 stall where they have wintered the last 4-5 months and put straight into an all-day event like cantering at the beach with friends or and all day trail ride. Think of how you would feel if you were put to the same task. Imagine getting put in the gym and asked to run 5 miles without any prep work, coming out of your winter hibernation and holiday eating! You might pass out, roll your ankle, or just plain refuse to do such a thing?

The importance of long slow distance (LSD) was brought to my attention several years ago when I began learning and training for endurance competition. Walking. Walking. Walking. Lots of walking will

reliably build a horses’ fitness and soundness. Walking over varied terrain and gradually increasing the duration of your walks, are the main building blocks towards any longevity in a horse’s career.

Walking is safe and you are less likely to have your horse injured. Walking is also very enjoyable for most horses and riders. There is a difference though, I am talking about a nice brisk walk, not dragging and asleep. All horses are different, but those ones that really drag just need to have the picture painted for them to realize walking with a purpose is what is wanted, and soon enough, they catch on and seem to enjoy the outing.

The first week I may just walk in the arena for 3-4 days for about 15-20 minutes. The second week, I may substitute one of the arena days for a short easy grade trail ride, maybe a couple miles or an hour duration. Third week I may do the same routine, either upping the distance/duration, or add in an additional day without chaining the 15-20 min duration schedule. Over many weeks, I may continue to slowly work my way up to walking for a 10-15+ trail ride, or 2-3 hours walking, aiming for a bright horse when we return to the trailer or barn. When bringing a horse along in LSD, the rule of thumb is to never increase the distance and speed at the same time. It is either one or the other and adjust as needed while paying attention to how the horse recovers.

It may take several weeks or months before I add light trotting into the horse's program, making sure his attitude is bright and his legs are clean and tight. It all varies of course, but especially a horse that is green, or has not seen any regular work, walking may be the agenda for the whole season, to build bone density and strength in muscles, tendons and ligaments.

If we as owners could be more aware, we may save some heartache in the long run due to injuries. LSD is something that should not be overlooked. It is extremely important, beneficial, and a great way to spend that extra quality time with your horse as he’s brought along properly for your spring and summer adventures!

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