Feature Horse

5 Steps To Your Fittest Horse Yet

Whether you’re stepping up to the next competition level, bringing your horse back into work or just want to ride him for longer, a proper fitness routine is key.

Whether you hack, school or compete your horse, in order to really enjoy your riding, it’s important that he’s fit for the level of work he’s doing. Not only will this keep him going for as long as you want him to, but it also minimises the likelihood that he’ll pick up any injuries along the way. 

It’s important to build your horse’s fitness gradually, over a period of weeks or months, to ensure his body has time to adapt as his exercise increases. This may sound like a lot of time and effort but, once you’ve laid the foundations, you’ll soon reap the benefits. Plus, there are a number of ways to keep it varied. Take a look at these fundamentals when formulating your horse’s fitness plans.

TOP TIP – If your horse needs to lose some weight, a brisk walk or steady trot will burn more fat than faster canter work.

Step 1 – Hill Work

When undertaking a new fitness plan, one of the most invaluable weapons in your arsenal is hill work. Taking your horse up and down hills is far more demanding than completing the same distance on a flat surface, so it’ll help you get him fit much quicker and by adding less miles on the clock.

While uphill work provides crucial cardio, encouraging your horse to breathe deeply and use his whole body, downhill work uses different muscles and improves his strength and balance.

How to do it Start by trotting your horse up hills and walking him down them. Repeat this at least a few times per session. Encourage your horse to reach into the contact to ensure he’s engaging the correct muscles. As he becomes fitter, introduce canter, too. It’s important that you build your pace going downhill as well, but start off with walk and slow trot, as he’ll find it much harder to balance this way. 

TOP TIP – If you’re focusing on improving your horse’s strength and muscle tone, add plenty of transitions into your hill work, too.

hillwork with horse for fitness

Step 2 – Gymnastic Exercises

Polework, gridwork and cavaletti are fantastic workouts regardless of your preferred discipline. They’ll encourage your horse to become more agile and athletic, improving his core strength.

How to do it Start off with poles on the ground to trot and canter over, before moving onto raised poles and cavaletti. As your horse gets fitter, you can progress to building small grids, bounces and combinations. You can also alter the distance between the poles to encourage your horse to extend and collect his paces. This will help increase his fitness and build muscle mass.

Incorporating gymnastic work into your lungeing routine will reap similar benefits, and you’ll be able to see how your horse engages from the ground. 

lungeing horse over trotting poles

Know your distances

When setting up poles, cavaletti or grids, it’s important to get your distances correct…

  • Trot poles: 1.2–1.7m
  • Canter poles: 2.7–3.4m
  • Bounce striding: 3–3.7m
  • One stride distance: 6.4–7.5m 
  • Two stride distance: 10–11m

Top tip – When setting up poles or jumps on a curve, measure the distance from the centre of each pole.


Interval training is easy to incorporate into your hacks, and is a great way to gradually boost your horse’s fitness and stamina. 

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