Are You Properly Conditioning Your Horse?

Promoting Equine Wellness & Sustainable Performance

It seems all too common that a horse's "performance life" averages around 3 to 6 years. Compare that to their lifespan of 25 to 30 years and that number seems very dismal and depressing. How do we improve this number? Through horse owner and rider education and understanding of horse health and fitness. Many of our horses today are overfed, under-stimulated, not adequately exercised, and are put into competitions or events without proper preparation mentally and physically which can often lead to injuries and stresses that could have been prevented. Focusing more on horse health and fitness is the key to optimal performance and equine wellness! 

The Basics of Properly Conditioning Your Horse

An individualized conditioning plan created for your specific discipline and horse, by a knowledgeable sports trainer or other equine health professional is ideal, but here are some tips for starting one on your own.

  • Consult your veterinarian to confirm the horse is sound and healthy before you begin conditioning your horse.
  • Work with an equine professional who specializes in nutrition to make sure that the horse's diet will be sufficient and provide the proper nutrition, vitamins, and minerals to promote optimal horse health.
  • Workload level is something you and the nutritionist will need to review and consider. So have a plan from your sports trainer or what you have decided as far as how many hours per day and days per week the horse will be conditioned and/or competing.
  • Know your horse's normal vital signs. You will begin to check the horse's vitals pre and postconditioning to determine your horse's baseline.
  • At rest, only 15% of blood volume circulates to the muscles. During exercise, blood flow to the muscles increases to 85%. At peak aerobic activity, the heart can pump as much as 63 gallons per minute! So knowing your horse's resting heart rate, along with a pre and post work out heart rate is important. This will help you determine how fit your horse is and give you any health indications of wellness or concern.
  • Monitor how slow/quickly your horse's heart rate returns to normal.
  • Be sure your conditioning plan includes a sufficient warm-up and cool-down. Warm up slowly and cool down efficiently.
Remember each horse is an individual and has unique needs and considerations. It is best to work with a veterinarian and/or sports trainer to design the right plan for you and your horse.  

What is the Goal or Result of Properly Conditioning Your Horse?

As you implement a conditioning program, over time you should see an increase in aerobic capacity, muscle size, and strength, bone quality, tendon, and ligament strength, & internal temperature homeostasis. While seeing a decrease in the heart rate as you condition your horse. The whole goal and outcome of this plan is to reduce the risk of injury during performance and to increase the sustainability of your horse's "performance life". That being said, I believe that retired horses and horses being rehabilitated from injury should also have a customized conditioning program, even if performance is not seen as an option in the future. Proper conditioning is an important part of maintaining and promoting equine wellness. For more horse health information related to this topic, you can check out:

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