How to Condition Your Horse

Two Methods:Determining the ConditioningConditioning Your Horse

A well-conditioned, well-tuned horse is worth it's weight in gold. Nobody likes to get on and ride for fifteen minutes, only to have their horse give out. Horses need to exercise in order to perform correctly and more efficiently with less health risks, just like people need to exercise. Whether a horse is used for show or just pleasure, getting them into better shape will make their work much easier for them.

Method 1
Determining the Conditioning

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    Examine your horse or have a vet examine them. Determine your horse's current weight and physical condition. If they are severely underweight or limping, you don't need to be giving them tremendous amounts of exercise. It's best to care for them until they recover rather than rush the process and try to ride him now.
    • Keep in mind that a horse under 3 years old is almost never ready to be put under a hard workout or conditioning schedule - it's too stressful for them, and you can harm them by doing so. Stick to light riding for young horses.
    • Horses in their late 20’s will need special conditioning as well, as their age makes them more likely to become injured or overworked quickly.[1]
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    Determine the amount of exercise your horse is currently getting. Before you can begin making changes to your horse’s exercise routine, you must first figure out the amount they workout at this point in time. Is your horse stalled for most of the day/night or winter, or do they have a large paddock to run around in? How frequently are they ridden, and for how long? What is the highest level of work they’ve done with you recently?
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    Take your horse’s heart rate. In order to determine the amount of physical increase that can be performed, you need to know your horse’s heart rate. Hold a stethoscope to the chest or shoulder of your horse, and count the number of beats you hear in one minute. A healthy horse will have a resting heart rate of 35-42 beats per minute. Then, have your horse perform some moderate exercise and allow them to cool down for 10-15 minutes. Take their heart rate again.
    • A healthy horse will have their heart rate return to 35-42 BPM after only 10-15 minutes. If this is the case, they are able to increase in their physical activity.
    • If your horse’s heart rate has not returned to normal after a 15 minute rest, the amount of physical activity they perform should be increased very slowly and over a long period of time.[2]
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    Set a conditioning schedule. To start, you should not be conditioning your horse more than three days a week - especially if your horse has been out of shape for several months. In off time, leave your horse out to pasture, preferably with another horse. They’ll get even more exercise naturally that way, with no work on your part. After about six weeks - the amount of time it takes to regain basic cardiovascular and ligament strength - you can begin increasing the difficulty of the work.[3]

Method 2
Conditioning Your Horse

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    Warm your horse up. In order to prevent injury after such a long period of time off work, you must always warm up your horse prior to heavy exercise. Walk your horse around for five minutes, followed by a bit of light posting trot. This will help to increase heart and respiration rate without putting their ligaments and muscles (the parts most likely to become damaged) at risk.
    • If your horse is too out of shape to be put under tack yet, you can longe them for 10 minutes or so at differing speeds.
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    Trot the horse. Trotting, or hacking, is very helpful in getting any horse into shape. Western or English, gaited or stock, a horse can build endurance and stamina by trotting. Start out at a brisk trot (extended trot) for about 2-5 minutes straight. Stop your horse. Is he winded? You can tell if a horse is winded or out of breath by feeling with your legs. If they are rapidly heaving in and out, then walk the horse forwards or in a circle and wait until his breathing returns to a normal rate.
    • Once the horse has recovered, trot him again for a couple of minutes. Let this go on for about 45 minutes to an hour of stopping, walking and starting again.
    • Over a couple of months, you will increase the time you spend trotting by a few minutes here and there (assuming your horse is ready for it), and continue trotting for longer periods of time.
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    Ride up and down hills at a walk. This will condition both the muscles in the hindquarters and many other muscles the horse doesn't use often. It is very important that you maintain a walk. A horse that is trotting or jogging up hills will not build as much muscle, though most horses prefer to move quickly up hills and avoid straining their muscles. You might have to hold them back a little.
    • Steep, short hills are best for building muscle, but you can go much farther on a hill that slowly inclines. If you find a tall, steep hill then go a quarter mile or so up the hill, turn around, and go back down.
    • When going up a steep hill, never heave back on the reins or use them to keep your balance. This could cause the horse to lose his balance. Lean far forward in the saddle when going up a hill, with your feet back a little, sit deep in the saddle, and tip your feet slightly forward going down a hill.
    • Stop every 10-15 minutes to check your horse’s pulse and respiration. If both are very high, give your horse a few minutes to cool down before continuing. Don’t do this for longer than an hour at a time.
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    Lope or Canter circles. Loping circles is a good way to condition a horse; it will help them make quicker turns and will build stamina. Some horses take a while to catch on to loping circles and may require training to be able to lope a good circle. You may want to begin by walking the circle, since this gives you a chance to establish the size of your circle. Start out with a large circle. Move up to a trot. Once your horse is comfortable trotting a circle, you can move up to a slow, steady lope.
    • Once your horse can lope a good circle (keep in mind it can take a few training sessions for them to learn this), you can increase the amount of time they can maintain a lope.
    • A horse can't keep a lope or gallop for more than 1–3 miles (1.6–4.8 km), so don't push too hard with this exercise.
    • Make sure and work the horse on circles going in both directions, so that they don’t become one-sided.
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    Cool down after each conditioning session. The same concept as warming up, cooling down lets the horse slowly return its heart and respiratory rates back to normal. This also helps it to literally cool down, as their sweat begins to evaporate. Cool down by walking along level ground for 5-10 minutes after your workout.[4]
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    Slowly increase the difficulty. After several weeks performing each individual exercise or task, you can increase the difficulty of the workout. Your options are threefold: choose to increase the duration of your workout, the speed at which it is performed, or the distance you go. Increasing two or more of these simultaneously puts your horse at risk for constant fatigue and physical injury.
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    Take adequate breaks from work. Equally as important as conditioning regularly is taking enough time off from work. Working your horse too hard is a recipe for disaster; there are several very dangerous ailments (azoturia, tying-up, thumps, etc.) that can arise when a horse is overworked. For the first 2-3 months, work should consist of 3-4 days on, and 1-2 days off.


  • Be sure to always have plenty of water available to your horse. Conditioning after a long period off of work puts the horse at greater risk of dehydration.
  • Don't just ride, think of other ways for your horse to build up other muscles such as lunging, long reining, loose jumping, etc.


  • Remember not to push your horse too hard. Gradually get the horse accustomed to working out more and more. Just like a person builds endurance, a horse will slowly build stamina.

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Categories: Horse Training