With the new eventing season approaching, fitness programmes are in full swing. But are you preparing your horse in the best possible way? Eventer Nicola Wilson shares her top winter training tips
1. Don’t rush building your horse’s fitness. If you haven’t got the core fitness — such as walking and roadwork — and strength in place, you can’t add any more fitness to it. The foundations need to be strong first.
2. None of Nicola’s young horses visit the gallops, instead all of their fitness work is done at home, on her parents’ farm in Yorkshire. The ground is flat, but she makes the most of hacking, fields and walking up and down riverbanks (pictured below) to build fitness.
“The horses who are being aimed at a three-day do go to the gallops, but not often,” says Nicola.
3. Every time you get on a horse, have a plan in your head of what you are going to do, so that you always manage to achieve something.
“Whenever I get on, I know what I want to work on and get out of the session. It keeps me focused, plus I don’t waste time and I don’t overdo it,” says Nicola.
4. If you ride more than one horse, remember to treat them as individuals. What works for one in terms of fitness work, management or daily routine may need to be adjusted slightly to keep another horse happy.
5. Be clear when your horse has done something well. When she is in the saddle, Nicola talks to the horse a lot, praising them by saying “good boy/girl”. She is also a fan of patting.
“My horses are special to me and when they try hard it’s nice to reward them,” explains Nicola.
6. Don’t become so bogged down with a fitness plan that you stop having fun. Keep the workload varied, so that both you and your horse are happy.
7. All of Nicola’s horses are given hard feed and adlib haylage on the floor. She says this is personal preference, as she likes every horse to have its neck and head down while eating.
“Feeding like this is natural, plus they are stretching their necks and topline, which is important if they’ve been working their muscles hard. Also, the horses are relaxed and chewing properly, and it helps any mucus to drain.”
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8. Each horse spends one hour on the walker in the morning, doing 30mins in both directions.
“It’s a great pre-warm-up but they need to strengthen evenly on both reins,” says Nicola. “The walker is a valuable bit of extra work.”
9. Your horse can’t be at peak fitness all year round, so decide where you want to aim for — perhaps it is a three-day event or your first attempt at a new level — and use earlier runs to build your horse’s fitness.