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How to Condition Your Horse with Hill Work
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How to Condition Your Horse with Hill Work

Ever wonder how performance horses are conditioned for hill work? Though it is not a walk in the park that just anybody can do, you can achieve it with a little training. It is an art that requires that the rider have very good judgment. One thing you will need to have here is a fine-tuned sense to help you make the right judgment on when and how much to increase your horse's work to build up his strength and endurance.

One surefire way to stock up power, endurance and stamina for your horse is to climb hills. It puts his own body mass to good advantage, making him exert more and utilize his muscles much harder. The gait that the horse uses during his hill performance also has an impact on his overall development. You therefore need to kick off slowly and have him warm up slowly in order to avoid injuring his soft muscles. As fitness levels improve and his tendons, ligaments, joints and muscles gain endurance, you can increase speed.

While trotting up hills strengthens the horse’s lower leg, as well as the thigh and gaskin of his hind leg, an uphill gallop works his rump muscles. However, be careful not to overdo it, and only attempt it once your horse has reached higher levels of fitness.

To enhance his coordination, balance and strength to handle uneven ground and inconsistent footing during a strenuous performance, do a great deal of traveling across the sides of the hill in addition to going up and down. Actually, this is one of the most effective exercises to have your horse do prior to a tasking athletic contest.

Training your horse on a steep hillside, especially if his footing is a bit loose or uneven, helps him develop a lot of dexterity and coordination, perhaps forcing him to scramble a little bit if his feet are sliding and have to be moved around one another. It is the kind of movement that boosts his agility and teaches him to get accustomed to balancing his feet and entire body to his best advantage. This way, your horse will learn to improve his agility, and therefore he will be less likely to strain his legs or fall down if he is in an environment where his footing becomes unpredictable.


Image source: flickr.com

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  1. jst4horses
    I really like this article. I heard a very famous horse trainer once say that IF he had his way, he would let mares and foals who were destined for performance (racing, stock, rodeo, show) grow up with the water at the bottom of a hill or even mountain and feed them way up the road. I had studied many horse raising and training styles and found that my own Native Nation styles around the world, when allowed space to practice the ancient ways did exactly that. A friend visited some Argentina horse ranches, he saw NO fences, NO horses. The trainer laughed and said wait until morning. In the morning the trainer and his assistants went out, whistled and stood with buckets of grain and treats mixed together. All of a sudden the ground shook, and hooves thundered and hundreds of horses came storming out of the mountains and canyons. The horses, mostly mares with foals at their side, or young fillies and colts too young for training, came to a slamming stop, in a perfectly straight line, down the row as far as he could see. The horses stood perfectly still. The trainers and assistants walked down the line, checked the horses, fed each horse that WAS perfectly in line and still a handful of the snack, and chose out horses for training for the day. My friend was completely awestruck. He had ridden in competition and polo, and had never seen such calm, amazing, fiery horses. After their grooming, saddling, and training for the day, the horses were just released at the corral gates, where they roamed back to the canyons and mountains to find their own group. I had seen the same as a child in the mountains where I was sent to camp while my Mom and Dad had to send us while they worked in their careers in the city......the horses lived free on a huge ranch. Each day they were whistled in, by the Native American trainer who owned the camp riding programs for several camps in that area. His assistants, which I early on got to BE one, pulled the horses out, groomed, saddled and got them ready for the camp groups that camp in and went out on trail rides. At the end of the work day, he often let them out in the roping arena where he trained rodeo horses, and gave them hay, and often treats such as watermelons. AND those horses were sound and happy, no matter how old when he often rescued them from other saddle horse barns that were getting rid of them for behavior or soundness issues.............One thing I always remember was the mountain lions and wolves on that mountain and his explanation that they are Creator's veterinarians and the process of nature guarding the end of life for prey animals. I had already learned from my Dad's Great Uncle that in the final seconds of a prey and predator exchanging life, if you watch carefully, you will see the moment universal energy passes and it is natural, not horrifying it is just part of our Creator I have seen video on Animal Planet and National Geographic in which antelope or zebra are captured by lions, and you can see, not just the prey who is captured, but the rest of the herd calm and go back to grazing, often within a close proximity to their once friend who is being eaten by the lion, or dragged away to the lion cubs.... And, yes, I found that putting the water far and down hill, and the feed far and uphill conditioned horses, I used it even for horses after they were sound enough to put out to pasture to recover from performance injuries treated by the veterinarian. I also rode really bad horses ( I do NOT recommend this for the usual rider, but ONLY for seasoned trainers who absolutely know what they are doing for both horse and human safety) that liked to buck a LOT. I had a trail with a huge rock at the bottom. The trail was narrow, and steep. I would mount from the rock and just start walking the horse, it would explode as usual, and buck up the mountain, by the time we got to the top, the horse was calm and walking. After a few times, the horse was able to just stay calm in an arena and go on with regular training. ALL of these were horses that were too expensive for the owners to sell down, or euthanize, but had been badly "broken" a term I hate, and after doing my ground work, and seeing not great results with ending the bucking, I just took them to the mountain trail and let them buck all the way to the top. I found it a lot easier to stay aboard than trying to ride a bucking horse that was in an arena where it could get into position to do some real damage to ME. BUT as noted before I do NOT recommend this for ANYONE who is NOT a seasoned trainer who more than likely has done some bucking horse training for performance and is able to stay on a VERY unstable horse.

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