04-20-2012, 10:25 AM
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The first stage in building fitness and conditioning in your horse is the walking stage. You should spend at least the first 4 - 6 weeks only walking your horse. Since you have a 20 plus year old horse that has not been kept on a regular exercise program I would say do the full 6 weeks of walking only before adding any trot sets.
This stage is going to be especially important for your horse since she is older than 20 years old and hasn't been kept in a regular exercise program.
The walking stage can be done on the trails and in the fields. You could start with 20 minutes/day gradually building up the time to around 1 1/2 hours/day by 4 weeks and about 2 hours/day by about 6 weeks.
The second stage of fitness and conditioning is the muscling up stage, this is the stage that you would begin to add some short trot sets in to your walking. You could also begin some simple easy schooling exercises, like walking large circles and large serpentines, if you plan on doing any schooling with your horse.
You can then gradually add in longer/more frequent trot sets and begin some short cantering sets. Remember to add the length and frequency of the trot and canter sets gradually over time. You can also gradually add more time spent schooling if you choose to school your horse.
To get a horse fully fit and conditioned, it will take around 12 weeks of 6 days/week of riding the program that I mentioned above. Once a horse is fit and conditioned, their fitness and conditioning can be maintained on around 4 - 5 days/week of riding.
You mentioned that you don't have a longe line or a round pen, I wouldn't recommend any longing or working in the round pen with a 20 plus year old horse anyway.
I would also recommend, if it hasn't already been done, to have the vet come out and give your horse a check up to make sure she is going into her fitness/conditioning program healthy. Also, be sure her deworming, teeth, shots, and farrier care (feet trimmed and shod if needed) are all up to date.
Good luck with your horse and have fun!