trail riding, roping, jumping or riding a dressage test, your horse must
be conditioned to perform the required work. Young horses are often
rushed through training and though they understand signals, they do not
have the physical ability to carry a rider safely over uneven terrain,
over jumps or through the fast, quick movements of a reining pattern.
MOVE-1: WALK -
Meredith Mackenzie on Macmilan demonstrates the fast or
extended walk on loose reins allowing the horse to stretch
his neck and back muscles.
Lack of strength and agility often show up as poor performance such as
pulling, rushing, refusing or stiff, uncomfortable movement. If the
problem is allowed to continue, the horse may begin to exhibit dangerous
behavior such as rearing, bucking, kicking or running away.
When asked to perform beyond his physical ability, a horse is more prone
to injury. Bucked shins, bowed tendons, chipped knees, back problems,
spavins, broken wind can result.
several easy, basic exercises you can practice to create a conditioning
foundation and they apply equally to horses and dogs. Gradually
increased over time, they strengthen your horse’s wind (breathing), leg
muscles, tendons and joints and build his back muscles to properly carry
In a show dog, the same exercises enhance timing and coordination.
These exercises can be performed by most riders capable of riding at a
walk, trot and canter safely in an open field. The guidance of a
qualified trainer will also help keep you on track.
Muscle condition and agility can be divided into longitudinal and
lateral skills. Longitudinal agility is the ability of the horse to
shorten and lengthen its stride. Lateral agility is his ability to bend
around a turn.
The show dog will become smoother on the triangle and will start on
stride for the down and back.
Though these descriptions sound simple, there’s a lot involved. A horse
can handily shorten and lengthen stride can balance a rider over uneven
terrain, negotiate dangerous ground, and quickly adjust speed according
to the rider’s directions.
When your horse is longitudinally agile, he has a smoother gait and
transitions. He’s able to respond to your signals and therefore is more
cooperative, safer and more pleasant to ride.
A laterally agile horse is easier to turn and carries its rider in a
more balanced state. He is willing and capable of turning in response to
the rider’s commands and safer to ride in tight quarters or rough
Longitudinal exercises vary from simple changes of speed at the gaits to
work over cavaletti poles or up and down hills. Begin by changing speeds
at the walk and trot. This exercise can be started on a lunge line
without a rider or in a standard size ring with a rider.
Start with approximately four to six steps at the fast, then the slow
walk and gradually increase the number of steps and frequency over
several days. When starting out, repeat the exercise no more than twice
during a training session to avoid boring or souring the animal.
MOVE-2: CAVALETTI - Meredith Mackenzie on Macmilan demonstrates trotting over ground poles to lengthen the horse's stride.
Walking or trotting over cavaletti poles develops longitudinal agility
and many dog handlers have adopted this technique.
Use six or eight poles approximately four to six inches in width and
eight to twelve feet long. Place the poles on flat, even ground and make
certain the poles are evenly spaced to fit your dog or horse’s stride.
Once the animal is going quietly over the poles at a medium walk or
trot, adjust the space between the poles to lengthen or shorten the
Raised cavaletti are an excellent exercise for building back muscles.
Begin with poles evenly spaced and adjusted for your horse’s normal walk
or trot stride.
Raise the poles and gradually increase the height
up to 12 inches for the horse, 1 to 3 inches for the dog.
Walk or trot through the cavaletti approximately four to eight times
during a session. Be sure to ride in both directions so as to develop
muscles evenly on both sides.
Exercises with cavaletti poles take a fairly accomplished rider to sit
in the saddle while performing. A less experienced rider can practice
this exercise by standing in the saddle so as to allow the horse free
use of its back.
Another excellent exercise for longitudinal agility is riding over
uneven terrain. Begin with easy walks and trots in a small field and
gradually increase the time and distance.
MOVE-3: HILL - Meredith Mackenzie on Macmilan demonstrates trotting up hills to build muscles in the horse's back and hindquarters.
After a few rides in a small field, you can begin short trail rides, if
possible in the company of older, more experienced, quiet horses. Once
your horse is going well over short trail rides, you can begin walking
and trotting up and down hills. Hill work increases balance and agility
for both horse and rider. Gradually increase the length and steepness as
your horse progresses. One of the top Afghan kennels made great use of
hilly exercise paddocks and their dogs were known for flawless movement.
Standing up in the saddle will again allow the horse to lift and stretch
its back. Riding on loose reins or light contact will also allow your
horse to stretch its head and neck and have more freedom to balance
during the exercises.
These simple exercises will take approximately three to four months and
lay a strong foundation for more strenuous work. With proper
conditioning, your horse will be able to smoothly transition into
jumping, reining, higher-level dressage or those day-long treks into the
The same exercises afford your show dog the strength and confidence he
needs to be fresh, powerful and “on” for Groups and Best In Show