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Get Horses Going for SpringBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · April 14, 2011

Giving a horse a few cold-weather months off from a busy competition or training schedule helps the horse relax physically and mentally, and many horses come back fresh and interested after this winter break. Getting back into show condition needs to be done gradually to avoid injury or muscle soreness. Begin with 30 to 60 minutes of easy exercise a day, mostly walking at first. Gradually add trotting, asking for longer and more frequent trot segments, before moving to canter work. Increases in effort should be planned about every five days if all goes well.

How do you know if you are asking for too much too quickly? General guidelines can help you work steadily toward greater fitness.

  • Increase either speed or length of the workout, not both, as your works progress.
  • Heat or swelling in any limb is a definite signal to back off. Exercise should not be resumed until a veterinarian has examined the horse and prescribed treatment or rest.
  • Using a heart monitor is a good way to keep track of conditioning progress. During training, the horse's heart rate should not exceed 150 beats per minute, and should preferably fall between 120 and 140 beats per minute.  
  • Horses that go off their feed, act sour, or seem unwilling to work may have been pushed too hard or too fast.
  • Horses in their prime years will come back into condition faster than older horses. With seniors, plan a longer and more gradual return to heavy work.