How fit is your horse? 5 key fitness indicators to look out for

  • Competition success often comes down to your horse’s fitness levels. H&H asks the experts what the key fitness indicators to look out for are.

    1. BREATHING: six-time Badminton winner Lucinda Green always used to gauge whether her horses were fit enough by the recovery rate of their breathing after a hard workout. “After galloping or going across country, I would expect a fit horse’s breathing to return to normal after 20min,” she says.

    2. HEART RATE: this is less easy to measure than breathing as it requires a heart-rate monitor. An increase in fitness is associated with a reduction in a horse’s heart rate after any one given workout. “I used to use a heart-rate monitor — it is a useful piece of equipment,” says Lucinda.

    3. FEEL: if your horse is giving you the same feel at the end of a session as at the beginning, you know that he is feeling in tip-top shape. Grand prix dressage rider and List 1 judge Mark Ruddock says: “If he turns down the centre line at the end of a test feeling less powerful, flat or lacking the cadence and spring he had at the start, then he’s probably not fit enough.”

    4. APPEARANCE: a horse’s coat and body shape reveals a lot. Eventer and H&H blogger Rosie Fry says: “You can tell if a horse is ready to run as he will look well and ‘hard’ in his condition. His coat will shine and his muscles will ripple.”

    5. STATS: by logging the various parameters of your horse’s fitness programme and training, you have a baseline to work from. “I encourage riders to keep a diary of the work they do with their horses, their recovery times, how long they’ve worked and how they feel,” says trainer Caroline Moore.

    Don’t miss this week’s training special in Horse & Hound magazine (15 January 2014), where we look at whether our competition horses are fit enough, how to improve your indoor jumping results and get Lars Petersen’s top dressage advice

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