Italian eventer Vittoria Panizzon finished best of the Italian squad at last year’s European Championships and at the 2012 London Olympics when she piloted Borough Pennyz into individual eigth and 11th places respectively. Unfortunately, Vittoria had to withdraw Pennyz from this year’s World Equestrian Games just before her dressage test.

Here she shares with H&H her top tips for getting horses fit:

1. Vittoria begins initial fitness work by hacking out before bringing more work into the routine.

“The hacking puts the basics in place, then I can move the hacking up a notch and start schooling,” explains Vittoria.

2. Hills are a vital part of Vittoria’s fitness programme for all of her horses, particularly Pennyz who is warmblood/TB.

“Pennyz used to struggle with hills when she was younger. Sometimes I trot up the same one several times. On the gallops I go up and down in canter so that the horses learn to balance themselves.”

3. Pennyz’s buzzy nature means her fast work has to be well timed.

“If I start doing it too early she starts to stress and then she doesn’t eat very well. That’s why I like to do the majority of fitness work out hacking before doing anything fast.”

4. All of Vittoria’s horses hack most days for around an hour.

“I think hacking is very important. It makes them strong and tough.”

5. Vittoria’s horses do canter work twice a week.

“I make sure I’m a step ahead with the fast work so that if they do something silly, like lose a shoe or get a small cut, and I miss one session I don’t have to panic,” explains Vittoria.

“For younger horses or those competing at lower levels the trot work and hills out hacking are the most important element of building core fitness.”

6. The hills are particularly important for Pennyz because, unlike a pure Thoroughbred, there comes a point when she tires.

The fast work includes short, sharp bursts of speed uphill and we canter continuously in between,” explains Vittoria. “When we were preparing for London, Pennyz would do that seven times in the same session so that she was ready to cope with a twisty track.”

7. Vittoria builds the intensity of the cantering sessions until each horse holds a steady speed for double the number of minutes of a cross-country round at their level.

“They run up the steeper part of the gallops more times as we get closer to a big event,” she explains. “For instance an intermediate horse goes up and down four times, while a horse aiming at a three-star will go up and down at least five times in the final week. That is around 20 minutes, working on the basis that our cross-country round will last for 10 minutes.”

This training feature was originally published in the April 2014 edition of Eventing magazine