How to Get a Horse Fit

Three Parts:Starting an Exercise RoutineExpanding the Exercise RoutineChanging the Horse's Diet and Other Care

The right exercise routine can reduce your horse's midriff, get it ready for a competition, or improve its overall health. Just like human exercise, the best results come from patient effort over many weeks, not from pushing a workout too far. You may wish to consult a veterinarian about a horse's diet, as well, but keep in mind that a newly active horse will require more food than before to maintain a healthy weight.

Part 1
Starting an Exercise Routine

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    Consult a veterinarian if the horse was injured. If the horse is recovering from an injury, always consult a veterinarian before coming up with an exercise plan. The horse will likely need a period of stall rest, and may not be able to handle anything more strenuous than a gentle walk on a lead line for some time after that.
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    Decide whether to lunge or ride. Lunging, or handling the horse from the ground with a long line, is a great way to start exercising an out-of-shape horse lightly. It can also get the horse (re)-accustomed to your commands and body language, and is especially recommended for untrained horses. If the horse is only slightly out of shape, and already accustomed to being ridden, you may follow the steps below while riding the horse instead.
    • Lunging is also referred to as lounging.
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    Walk the horse daily. Walk the horse for about 10–20 minutes each day. Walk the horse forward, then turn in circles and figure eights, but give the horse space to make a wide arc while turning. If the horse is untrained, or acting uncooperative, focus on training the horse first. Once it responds to your commands, increase the speed to a fast walk (but not a trot) to increase the benefits of the exercise.
    • Vary the direction you are walking in and the turns you make, so the horse gets accustomed to following your lead instead of falling into a habitual pattern.
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    After a week, add a trot to the exercise sessions. Trot for the first time after a week of walking exercises. Start your exercise session with 5–10 minutes of walking, then have the horse trot for 5–10 minutes.
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    Watch the horse's reaction. The horse should pant a little after a trot, but should not be gasping for air, coughing, or excessively sweating. Some out-of-shape horses may be able to handle longer stretches of trotting, but keep a careful eye on them to avoid injury. Find a baseline for the amount of trotting your horse can sustain without major effort, but always start with walking, and keep your initial exercise sessions to a maximum of thirty minutes.
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    Finish each exercise session with a walk. After each trot, dismount (if applicable) and walk the horse gently for at least 15 minutes. You may instead let horse roam by itself in a pasture during this time. The important part is not returning the horse to its stall until it has cooled off from the exercise with this relaxed movement.
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    Gradually increase the amount of trotting. Trotting is excellent for building muscle mass, but patient, gradual increases are the safest and most effective way to get the horse fit long-term. Every second or third exercise session, increase the amount of trotting by one or two minutes.
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    Continue to the next section when the horse is ready. A significantly out-of-shape horse will often require four weeks of exercise or more before improvements begin to show. Stay patient, and focus on the long-term benefits. Once the horse can easily handle 15 minutes of walking, followed by 15 minutes of trotting, continue to the next section below.
    • For the next section, you will need to start riding the horse, if you haven't already.

Part 2
Expanding the Exercise Routine

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    Slowly increase the length of the workout. Extend the length of the workout gradually, by no more than a few minutes each week. Use a "walk, trot, walk, trot" pattern to increase the length of the exercise session without wearing out the horse, but keep increasing the amount of time the horse trots each time as well.
    • Remember to always end an exercise session with a walk without a rider.
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    Let the horse rest at least once a week. Now that the exercise is beginning to expand beyond short, gentle sessions, make sure the horse gets sufficient rest. Give the horse a break from all forms of riding at least once a week.
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    Start walking and trotting over hills. Trotting up and down hills is especially effective at building the horse's hindquarter muscles. Keep in mind that the horse may trot at a slower pace over hills.
    • Never ride up and down hills on muddy ground or other terrain with dangerous footing.
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    Gradually introduce cantering. Once the horse can trot for an hour without a break, it's time to try a light canter. Push the horse from a trot into a canter for just a moment, then back to a walk. Repeat this every day or every other day, gradually increasing the canter time every couple exercise sessions. It may be a few weeks before the horse can comfortably canter.
    • Adopt a jump seat position while cantering, to take most of your weight off the horse's back and to keep you balanced.
    • Cantering is good for developing the horse's breathing, but trotting is more effective as a general muscle workout.
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    Only gallop once the horse is ready. Don't push the horse to this step; it usually takes at least nine weeks for an out of shape horse to be ready for galloping. Once the horse can canter comfortably, move from a canter to a gallop, then back to a canter again. Try this once or twice a week, gradually increasing the amount of time spent galloping.
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    Train the horse to jump cautiously. If you are training the horse for competitions, understand that jumping does not need to happen every exercise session. At the start of a season, a few jumping exercises are useful to get the horse back in form. Apart from that, high jumping exercises are not recommended due to the stress on the horse's joints. Have the horse trot and jump over short obstacles instead, or use other exercises to build jumping muscles.
    • Useful exercises include leg yields, "shoulder in" exercises, and having the horse lengthen and shorten its stride.

Part 3
Changing the Horse's Diet and Other Care

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    Adjust the food type and amount. A veterinarian or horse feed seller may be able to advise you on a healthier brand of bagged grain, and/or a less fattening hay. If your horse is overweight, or if its ribs are showing, consult a veterinarian for advice on the horse's feeding schedule.
    • Keep in mind that a working (or exercising) horse needs more food than one that stays in a stall or pasture all day.
    • Do not give the horse diet or medical supplements without the advice of a veterinarian.
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    Minimize unhealthy treats. If you feed your horse treats, cut back or switch to healthy alternatives. Carrots are healthy treats, while sugar cubes are not.
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    Let the horse out of its stall. Let the horse into a pasture for at least three hours a day, and preferably for six hours or longer. Roaming and grazing in an open space may boost the horse's energy level, reduce negative attitude, and even help its digestion and injury recovery speed.


  • Make sure the saddle girth, halter, and/or bridle are all well fitting and comfortable. When lunging, keep the stirrups up so they don't beat against the horse's sides.


  • Don't ride a horse right after he's eaten.
  • Beware of colic occurring due to dramatic changes of diet, pasture turnout, or routine. Consult a veterinarian if you notice any health problems.
  • Keep horses cool with water and minimize heat exposure.

Article Info

Categories: Horse Health