Fit for the Trail

Learn how recreational riders can condition and protect their equine weekend warriors.

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Fit for the Trail
On the trail, start with slow, easy routes and build up to longer distances and faster speeds. | Photo: iStock

How recreational riders can condition and protect their weekend warriors

After a long work week, your schedule is wide open and the weather is riding-perfect. You pull your horse out of his field, groom him quickly, tack up, and head off down the trail. While the average recreational horse with a basic fitness level might be able to go for a short (less than 5 miles) walk or trot safely and comfortably, asking for more might put him at risk of injury. Then there are the health risks—from bites to bruises—that the very nature of trail riding poses. Here’s how to prepare your weekend warrior for whatever adventures lie ahead on the trail.

Taking it Slow

Jenifer Nadeau, MS, PhD, associate professor and equine extension specialist with the University of Connecticut and an avid trail rider, says one of the most important things to work on with trail horses is conditioning. She says ring work (“A lot of walk, trot, and some canter”), gradually building up to longer durations under saddle, can help condition these horses. In the meantime, start with slow, easy routes on the trail, and build up to longer distances and faster speeds.

“Just like any conditioning, you would not want to increase two things at once,” she notes. “To avoid fatigue and injury, you do not go a longer distance and greater speed at the same time. Riders need to gradually condition the horse to bring it into shape for the amount and type of riding they will be doing

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