It’s not only humans that need to exercise regularly and do warm-ups, stretching, and cool-downs. In this post, we explain horses’ exercise requirements and different ways to help them meet their exercise needs.
Benefits of Exercise for Horses
Exercise can increase a horse’s stamina and endurance and improve its muscle tone and the functioning of its heart and lungs. It promotes mental alertness, disease resistance, bone and hoof development, and healthy blood circulation. With each step, a horse’s hoof pushes fluid up its leg.
Exercise also helps prevent common issues among horses that spend most of their time in a stall, like boredom, leg swelling, and constipation.
Horse Exercise Requirements
A horse’s exercise needs vary depending on factors like its age, breed, housing situation, health, and fitness level, as well as the climate. A racehorse will require more-intense workouts than a senior horse, for example.
Horses that are free to move around in a pasture should receive an additional 15 to 20 minutes of exercise daily. Stabled horses benefit from at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. Super-fit horses need about 2 hours of exercise daily.
Horses with a low fitness level benefit from a gradual increase in exercise quantity and intensity. Regardless of the horse, consistency is key. Irregular exercise can lead to issues like muscle damage or incorrect feeding.
Warm-Up, Stretching, and Cool-Down for Horses
Just like you wouldn’t start running a marathon without warming up first, horses require a warm-up before exercising. Warm-up activities decrease the risk of injury, help the horse’s limbs move more freely, and increase the oxygen going to its muscles. Options include walking or trotting the horse at an easy pace for 10 to 15 minutes or lunging it (having it move in a circle at the end of a lunge line).
Stretching a horse increases its flexibility, improves its circulation, and helps relieve pain and inflammation. Stretch a horse’s legs by picking them up one at a time and gently extending them in each direction. Other possible exercises are having the horse turn in circles or stretch its neck forward and down.
For the cool-down, keep the horse moving at a relaxed pace for 10 to 15 minutes to allow its body temperature and heart rate to return to normal. Depending on the weather, the cool-down could include spraying or sponging the horse with cool water, drying it off with a towel, or applying a horse blanket. The animal can take little sips of water but should not eat until its body temperature has returned to normal to reduce the risk of colic.
Types of Exercise for Horses
Riding - whether at a walk, jog, lope, or gallop - is a classic way for both the horse and the rider to get exercise. Variations include riding the horse over ground poles, taking it over jumps, riding it up and down a hill, and ponying another horse behind it. Other ways to exercise a horse are putting it on a treadmill, taking it for a swim, having it do lunging or driving (pulling a cart), and taking it for a walk on a lead rope.
Being out in a pasture is its own form of exercise since groups of horses move around as they graze. Encourage physical activity by giving horse toys like giant balls or putting the hay and water at opposite ends of the field.
What would be your favourite way to exercise a horse? Let us know in the comments!
Hello, My name is Shelby Gatti, and I am the owner of Shelby Ranch. I love being able to share my passion for animals with you and your family. At Shelby Ranch you can expect a ton of family adventure from horseback riding to mechanical bull riding & axe throwing.