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The Women & Horses Newsletter - June 2008

Fitness For You and Your Horse:
The Foundation For all Horse Activities
by Mary D. Midkiff

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The season for horse and rider fitness is here. Not that you are not fit year round (I hope) but we all want to perform in some way with our horses this time of year while in the colder months we might be simply maintaining a base level of healthy well being.

This newsletter is dedicated to providing fitness tips for you and your horse no matter what your discipline, breed or performance goals are.

I’ll start with the ideal setting for fitness for you and your horse. If you have access to open fields, trails, hills and galloping tracks you are a lucky horse person. There is nothing better for you and your horse than to get out for long walk/trot/canter/gallop sets. If you can add hills into that mix so much the better. I do this once a week or every 6 days with my horse and it is making all the difference in his ring work and it deepens our bond of having fun together even more.

But most of us are limited to arenas or enclosed areas. And many riders are not at the point in their relationship with their horse of having the trust and confidence to go out and do all of the conditioning work on their own. I know there are several horses at the barn where I board that are reluctant to go beyond the dressage ring or the indoor arena or their stall or turn out paddock. Their owners/riders simply put all their time with their horse into arena training and none or little into getting their horse out into the open for conditioning both mental and physical.

It’s a fact of life in the horse world today, most of you will be taking lessons, training and performing with your horses in an arena setting. Be it dressage, hunters and jumpers, reining, barrel racing, cutting, pleasure and trail classes or whatever you do to prepare your horse. It can be challenging to get a horse in good physical shape simply by working every day in an arena.

Nonetheless healthy conditioning is very important and plays a major role in the success of your partnership. A well conditioned horse has the supportive muscles and joint structure to carry you successfully in your arena sports.

Here are some tips for conditioning you and your horse.

  1. Trotting poles and/or cavaletti – Set up a line of trotting poles. Most trotting poles can be set from 3’ (for ponies or small horses) to 4’ (most horses) apart. Use 2 poles to start then add to 3 and 4 and keep your horse in the same trotting rhythm as you go over them. This forces the horse to lift his joints and his back and strengthens the “carrying” muscles. You can also place the poles on a circle pattern in a fan shape and ride over them while you are trotting. This helps the horse bend and lift simultaneously.
  2. Lots of transitions – Create as many transitions up and down as you can. This will ask the horse to use his carrying muscles and engage his joints more effectively than simply working on the flat for a long time. Go from walk to trot to walk to canter to walk to canter to trot to halt to back to trot, etc. Start with a few strides in each gait and as you continue lengthen the times between transitions. Let your horse walk on a long rein and stretch periodically too and of course, always reward them gratefully.
  3. Play with your horse – with a rope halter and very long line teach your horse games and mix it up with lunging circles at the walk, trot and canter. Have them go over jumps (yes, any horse can do this!) and up and over safe obstacles and figure out puzzles. My horse and I do this often and we both really love it. He gets a new sense of confidence about what he can accomplish and how smart he really is! And I love to watch him play with me. It also is a new way for him to use his body in fitness. Changing directions, jumping over obstacles and finding his balance going up and down a steep incline are just a few ways I add fitness to his game day.
  4. Find some friends and a good trail system and trailer out together a few times a month. Go camping with your horse or just out for a trail ride. Even if it is just for a walk through the woods it is better than going around in circles every time you ride.
  5. If you have access to a round pen use it to help with your horse’s fitness. I am not a proponent of constant round pen use but I do think they can serve us well if used as another tool mixed in with everything else you do together. Set up some poles around the track and have your horse trot or canter (typically 9’ apart for most horses) in both directions going over the poles in rhythm. You can do this on the lunge line or free lunging. Have your horse change directions, halt and back, then up to the canter, etc. It can be fun and rewarding for both of you.

And fitness for you? Well you should be walking everyday, Pilates and/or Yoga for balance and stability at least once per week and a cardio workout every week. If you have trouble working all of this into your life then do it while you are at the barn! Take a long walk with your horse in-hand at a good pace, jog with your horse in-hand, go out and jog the boundaries of the property. Since you are already, dirty, sweaty and in sneakers do your cardio work at the barn! Even if it is just 30 minutes get your walking and your cardio into your week. You will be safe, effective, balanced and prepared for your riding. Your horse will know that you are on the team and with his motion when you are in condition yourself.

I have mentioned this before, but it is worth mentioning again. Try out the MBT performance shoes. MBT stands for Masai Barefoot Technique. They are made to give you a good workout when you walk and eliminate joint stress, pressure and pain. They are amazing and they keep you in good shape. They are available at Foot Solutions stores or you can go to their website www.swissmasai.com and find other locations. I have a pair of the shoes for most of the year and the sandals for summer walking and hiking. They are so comfortable and last forever. I have had mine for 5 years now and they are in great condition. One of my students has used them for her daily walks and lost 25 pounds in 4 months!

I hope this gives you inspiration and tools to start out the Summer. I will send along some photos soon of me and Redge at our first horse show June 28. I want all of you to have a great relationship with your horse on whatever level works for both of you.

Keep loving, respecting, trusting and most importantly, listening to your horse(s)! They deserve it.


Mary D. Midkiff

New Phone Numbers: Office 502-552-1195

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Mary Midkiff, 1119 Merrick Drive #362a, Lexington KY 40502
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