Walk It Out!
So with our season on hold and the pressure to train and compete off, it might be time to take a look at how you are incorporating walking into you and your horse’s fitness routine. Walking, alone or with a buddy (six feet away, please! And not just for the mares), is one of the best ways to develop fitness and strength in your horse while putting very little wear and tear on their joints and feet, improving their fitness and soundness and saving them for when we actually get to start competing again. For many of us who cannot see our horses during the shut down, walking is going to be key in getting them fit once we can ride again. And, as anyone who follows Denny Emerson on Facebook knows, it has great mental benefits as well, taking some of the stress out of beginning work for a horse.
Many trainers I have worked with include at least one day where horses are worked only at the walk, usually referred to as the “walk hack.” This is 45-90+ plus minutes of just walking, ideally on varied terrain and surfaces: trails, dirt roads, up and down hills. If you don’t have access to trails, walking around a quiet neighborhood can provide equally beneficial, providing both physical exercise and exposure to the activity of daily life off the farm (although, with one of my horses, I ended up training the UPS driver to turn off his truck, rather than training my horse to ignore it!). Even if you just wander your farm, you are getting out of the ring, asking the horse to adjust to different sights and terrain, and developing fitness and strength without putting much stress on their bodies.
Even on the days when you aren’t doing a “walk hack,” consider putting in 10 solid minutes at the walk before you ask for any faster work. It allows their muscles and tendons to thoroughly warm up, making the risk of exercise-related injuries smaller, as well as building strength. Throw in some walk poles to keep things interesting…but wear a watch! 10 minutes is a lot longer than we all think it is. Use the time to hold your half seat and build your strength for cross country or to do warm up exercises yourself, such as arm circles or swinging your legs to open your hips.
And in these days of quarantine, when we are all spending way too much time on the couch and the gym is closed, consider taking your horse for a walk in hand. You both get the exercise benefits, the strain is even less on your horse, and you can work on ground manners as well. And I don’t mean taking your horse out to graze (although that is nice as well) – I mean 30+ minutes of purposeful walking: a fitness workout for both of you.
So enjoy the spring, go for a walk, and be fit and ready for when our season begins!