A friend of mine asked: 'I want to know time frames & what kinds of exercises to do to get a horse ready for serious riding in the spring? What's a reasonable length of time to get a horse ready?'
Well.... what we're really talking about here is conditioning our horse.
- You have horse shows, or long, challenging rides in the open or you are coming to my place to start to work your horse on cattle in the spring. Let's say May. (I hope you come earlier!)
- Your horse has been 'resting' all winter (See Lady in photo!) and you now feel it's time to start riding them in preparation for spring. (This also works for horses coming back from other long periods of no riding such as lameness, foaling etc.)
-You know you have to condition them slowly so you want some time frames to setup a schedule accordingly. (Of course horses who've been kept in shape by riding all winter don't need this conditioning.)
-You know to give yourself plenty of time to get ready. You don't want to rush or hurt the horse when they're not ready.
The goal of conditioning is to develop the horse’s cardiovascular, metabolic & structural foundations to withstand the stress of intense exercise without sustaining injury. For more information on the physiology of conditioning, I refer you to this article Is Your Horse Fit - The physiology of conditioning, from the Government of Alberta's Agriculture and Rural Developemnt department. I'm sure there are many other articles on this subject on the internet.
Where to Start?
I start my show reining horses back into condition starting in February. I pulled their shoes when the last show season was over in Oct. and gave them the winter off to rest (& me! I also start young horses under saddle at this time.). The next show season starts in May so I have 3 months to get them ready. I also have to tune up their reining maneuvers. So add a month if your horse has special skills to review or learn before spring riding. (For young horses or horses in lengthy training, we rode all winter.)
And that was from previous experience. A key point to remember. One of the most important principles of conditioning is that of individual differences.You know your horse. You know their condition. You know how well they respond to riding and conditioning. So you are the best judge to know the custom program and adjustments made in the time frame to use.
And you know yourself! (I hate riding in the real cold now.
Some people want black and white answers or definite times. It can't be done and be right as every horse is different. I can offer some guidelines however and my experience to aid you in defining your conditioning program. So when you are digesting all of this information and sorting it all out in your mind, adjust it for your horse and you will do great!
You can always start earlier than you think. I always found it better for me to start real early so I could work on my maneuvers or other custom work and not feel rushed or panicked come May. I will use my horse Lady as an example. She's had the winter off and I want to get her ready for shows in the spring.
Let's look at some factors and the next article will give the 4 stages of conditioning. They apply in all seasons but I will focus on winter. These stages of conditioning make up a framework for the time frames and exercises - ie. groupings or categories, if you like. The 3rd article in the series will talk about a general riding format.
The final articles will talk about time frames and exercises based on the stages and riding format.
Some Factors to Consider
1. Training Environment - An arena would allow you to ride all winter or sooner in the year. Riding outdoors would depend on the winter weather. Without an arena, a lot of people can't ride till spring. I had to wait till my outdoor arena was rideable to work on reining maneuvers.
2. Present Condition (or Starting Point)- Double the time if the horse is really out of shape.
3. Age - Double the time if the horse is middle aged or senior. Or if the horse is really young (new to conditioning) or previously non-athletic.
4. Weather - Very cold, snowy or wintry conditions will lengthen the time. Not all days are rideable (unless you have access to an arena and can get to it!)
What's Lady's Condition So Far
1. My arena will not be ready till spring. So I will have to ride Lady outside when the weather permits. So I have started riding her already when the weather has been good. So I've added more time.
2. Lady is not totally out of shape but she is a little fat. (She's a very easy keeper). My horses have the run of big spaces and can keep themselves exercised on all but the coldest of days. She does not live in a stall and is free to roam in and out of the barn. So I will add a little more time.
3. Lady is 14 this year. She is middle aged and had a big show career in her youth. I will start her back more slowly and a little earlier. So I will add more time.
4. January has been mild so far. I hope February will be the same. So I've started now. So I've added more time.
Next article: 4 stages of conditioning.
If you have any questions or want help with conditioning and have fun with my innovative approach, please contact me.
Putting my spin on conditioning horses.
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