Thursday, January 28, 2010

4 Stages of Conditioning & Winter

The topic of conditioning a horse is an extensive one. There is a lot of information on the internet and is good reading. (Check out this article from
This 2nd article in the series will talk about a framework or stages of conditioning so we're 'all on the same page' or stage.

4 Stages of Conditioning
This is what I do when conditioning my reining horse to get ready for the show season. You can apply it to your specific event. The idea is the same.

: the gradual introduction of the horse to increasingly greater distances and increases in speed (ie. work load).
This stage involves walking, jogging, trotting and slow loping/cantering in the arena and riding out in the open on flat terrain for several months. This type of conditioning results in getting the horse in shape: improved cardiovascular and muscular efficiency, enhanced ability to regulate body temperature, and stimulates changes in the body (ie. bones, ligaments, tendons).
LSD training builds stamina, allowing the horse to exercise for prolonged periods at a low to moderate intensity. Your horse should be able to cover about 8 to 10 miles at a ranch trot/working trot in an hour on the road or flat terrain three or four days a week, for example.
2. Introducing the Maneuvers: introducing the exercises and simple maneuvers to build the muscles, skills & coordination (and confidence) at a slow speed. This stage is based on the principle of conditioning known as specificity where your training is specific to your event and targets the specific groups of muscles etc. that are needed.
This is also referred to as strength training. Include strength-training exercises two to three times a week, or every other day once you horse is legged up and the horse is able to sustain work for prolonged periods.

3. Refining the Maneuvers: increasing the intensity of the maneuvers and exercises to refine the skills, stamina and coordination at an ever increasing speed to reach their full potential. A very intense session followed by a regular session is often referred to as interval training or progressive loading.
Maintaining the horse's condition using exercises to keep the horse fit and able to stay fit for the duration of their event (ie. the whole show season). This would provide the endurance necessary should an unexpected situation arise where a horse was required to overly exert themselves and not over tax their system and become injuried or too tired to continue. (ie. In reining: have the situation of an unexpected run off for 1st place and the rider being unsure as to whether the horse could handle it and not be too fatigued to finish showing that day or weekend).  
Apply The Stages In Winter
Though these stages apply to any horse any time that needs to get fit for their event, we are focusing on the question of fitting a horse up in the wintertime.
So with the cold winter and with no arena, I will focus only on the first stage: legging them up. I am not able to work on simple maneuvers outside in the deep snow. I could try (I've done it before but I will wait for an arena.) I will cover the other stages in later articles.
The LSD stage/'Legging a Horse Up' could take 2 to 12 months, depending on the breed and age of the horse, its previous condition and the final objectives. See factors in article 1 of this series.

If you have access to an arena then you could do all 4 stages. You would still need to 'factor' in the weather. It can still get really cold in an unheated arena. Too much cold air intake could hurt a horse lungs.

Legging Lady
As you can see from the photos, I have started to do low intensity walking on the road to start to get her in shape. This was preceded by some groundwork and warm up exercises. And as most people know, I will spend considerable time cooling her down since the winter could cause chills on a sweaty horse. (I didn't go that far.)
Next article (the 3rd in the series) will talk about the overall riding program (whether it's the weather or not :) and the following article will have some exercises and time frames for each phase of the legging up. 'I'm getting there!'
Update: ORHA has an article in their Feb.2010 newletter on conditioning.

If you have any questions about winter conditioning, warm up, frame work, or my fun, innovative approach, please feel free to contact me or comment to this post. Information package is available.
Stay warm!
Putting my spin on conditioning horses.
©Copyright KISS Reiners

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