Simple work can improve both your health & the health of your horse. Building muscles helps to keep things in good working order. If the muscle tone isn't there, your horse won't be able to preform at it's best. Muscles help make a horse stronger & able to work longer without exerting excess energy to keep going.
*Always consult your Vet before beginning any exercise with your horse. If there are any underlying conditions your vet will be able to advise you on types of exercise/work your horse would benefit the most from*
Legs & Back muscles are the main one's I'll talk about here. To build better leg & hip muscles, the best way is riding or lunging in sand. If lunging, you both will get quite a workout in a fairly deep sand base. You don't need to work in sand for very long before working up a sweat & getting tired. If you are starting out getting back into shape, only work in sand for 15-20 minutes at the walk-trot. Move to flat ground & walk out 15-20 minutes to cool down the muscles. The idea here is to tone/build muscles without straining them. 6" of sand is a good depth. If it's too deep you'll be over stressing muscles too soon & can cause injury to both you & your horse. If the sand is less than 4" you will still get a decent workout, though you'll have to workout roughly 5 minutes longer to get the same results. When you're done with your workout, & you've been lunging, you both should be worked up pretty good. Always walk out your cool down on flat land. Don't let your horse just stand around as this can lead to muscle cramps or "tying up". A good sign your horse is cool is when its breathing is close to normal- not labored & its pulse is also close to normal.
If you don't have access to sand, cavaletti poles are another option to toning & building muscles as well as getting a good stretch in. Your horse has to guage & pick up its feet in order to walk over the poles without hitting them. Raising the legs higher will tone muscles in both the legs & back areas as well as the hip & shoulder. If you have never done cavaletti poles with your horse, you may have to walk it through them a few times to show them what you're asking of them & prepare them to "watch" where they're going. Most horses will look at the obstacles they are going over, in my case with Cookie, she doesn't look where she's putting her feet & almost always mis steps. Walking over them with her gives her an idea to look & pick up her feet to go over them. I recommend ground cavaletti to start with. After a couple weeks then raising them 3-4" will raise the level of your workout. I wouldn't raise them any higher than 5-6" unless you are starting your horse jumping. At this point, we are looking to tone & build muscle without adding any jumping in the mix.
In addition to the above, add in some hill work. Nothing real steep. Just a decent incline will do. Moving forwards down the hill & forwards up the hill makes your horse "collect" itself in preparation for the work at hand. They have to bring their hind legs under them for support going down hill & use those hind legs & muscles as power units to propel them up the hill. Doing this 5-10 times is a good start. Guage by how your horse is reacting- heavy breathing & high pulse rate. If it doesn't seem to give your horse a good workout, continue a few more times. Always cool out on flat ground. You can mix it up by going backwards up & down the hill also. This will improve that hind end by using the opposite side of those muscles.
Any of these toning exercises can be adjusted according to how well your horse is improving. If it appears the length of time is too much, adjust it.
Always do a cool down walk on flat ground. If it's cool weather & your horse is sweating, dry him off or place a sheet over him/her to prevent getting a chill. Never turn out a wet horse even in summer time. Make sure your horse has access to salt & fresh water.
There are many different methods to tone & build muscle. I have found these are readily available to me & these are what I use. Not only is my horse getting in shape & getting rid of excess energy, but I am too!
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