Equines are born athletes and require the ability to move freely in their environment in order to maintain proper health. While they naturally move while grazing, especially when joined by other horses, short bursts of speed are also important.
Movement impacts hooves and distal limbs, as well as the gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems. Providing your horse with proper exercise will improve their circulation, digestion, flexibility, muscle and bone development, and impact their overall health and happiness.
Below are a few helpful tips to follow:
- Consult your veterinarian. A regular health check-up is the first step before beginning your horse’s exercise regime. Once your veterinarian gives you the green-light, you can start developing a plan. Think about your climate and heat exposure; plan accordingly. Because of high temperatures in most of the country at this time of year, it is best to exercise your horse first thing in the morning or in the early evening. Sun exposure may also be a concern.
- Work with a trainer to develop a fitness regime. If your horse is elderly, has recently recovered from an injury or you are working towards a specific training goal, it’s best to consult with an experienced trainer before increasing their physical activity. A trainer can also help you develop exercises that will work best for your horse and your goals.
- Consider your horse’s current level of fitness and use common sense. You wouldn’t start your marathon training with a ten-mile run on day one. The same is true for your horse. You’ll want to start small and slow. Once they gain endurance, you can gradually increase intensity, time or distance for a bigger workout.
- Plan on daily exercise. Horses need 20 minutes of movement every day so that’s a good initial goal and can be increased from there. More intense programs for competition conditioning can build up to two hours daily. Always begin and end with a 5-minute warm-up. You can ride or lead your horse and vary training activities accordingly. Start with walking, then trotting and progress from there depending on the horse’s age and fitness level.
- Try adding swimming or work on an underwater treadmill. If you live near facilities that accommodate it, swimming or work on an underwater treadmill are great conditioning options for your horse. These are a low-impact exercises that will give them a chance to cool off as well. Most horses enjoy it and it’s great for their muscular, cardiovascular and respiratory systems too. If they are timid at first, don’t worry, it takes practice.
- Keep your horse hydrated. Don’t forget to provide a few gallons of water immediately following exercise to keep your companion well-hydrated. Horses consume an average of 5-10 gallons of water per day and often much more on hot days. Providing a second water bucket with electrolytes added to it can help with hydration in the summer months. Supplementing electrolytes will stimulate your horse to drink, put back what is lost in sweat, and support normal physiology, all of which are important following exercise and when the weather is hot.
Courtesy of Barn Chats by Vetoquinol