I'll be getting a free lease horse soon, and I have a few questions about the sort of work that he should/can handle.
Basically, he is an approx. 16HH QH gelding, aged (18-20), and has gone mostly unused for some months now. Up until 2 years ago he was used regularly as a 'school horse', which involved 2-3 sessions of 3 hour work per week, sometimes more.
I'm only after a horse for trail riding, but I want to know what sort of limits I should expect. What sort of distance should he be able to cover at a walk if I get him into top physical condition? Where I currently have agistment is 11km out of town, and I had originally planned to do some riding in/around town, which I'm unsure about now due to the distance. If I did do that though, he would be kept close to town overnight before being ridden back out the next day, but even so it seems a bit much to expect of him, especially when I'm not exactly light.
I know that endurance horses can handle much longer distances, but he's no endurance horse, so I thought it best to ask.
Also, given his age and lack of recent use, should I stick to say 30min or less walking rides a few times a week to start?
Personally, if you're just walking, go ahead on an 8 hour trail with a few small breaks for "breathers" and frequent water stops.
Though, you probably won't be going on a trail that long, I've taken a mare out of pasture and went for a 6 hour with one half hour break (potty and stretching) and three or four water breaks (about every hour or so after the first 2). She was sweaty as all, but she was perfectly fine. I even had her trot/canter in a few places.
Even a pasture fit horse should be able to walk for as far as you want it to. It's easier on the horse if you work up to it a little (hour rides for a week, two the next, etc), but it won't kill the horse to walk some trails.
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30 min of walking isn't much for a horse. You wont be doing anything to build up its stamina unless its all up hill. If you're walking you can easily start with a 2 or 3 hour ride. It shouldnt be a problem.
I will be keeping an eye on this thread for any tips I can use also. Good luck with your free lease horse!
What sort of terrain will you be riding in, level paths, or mountains?
Thanks for that, Iseul. I might start of easy and then progress to the odd trip into town.
jamesqf, I'll be riding along roads (roadside in the grass where possible). There are a few hills but nothing huge.
I saw him yesterday and he still has a surprising amount of muscle, so he shouldn't struggle too much. He's got the typical QH bulk going on, though it is slightly more on the fat side.
I'm no expert, but I would just approach it the way I would getting myself back into shape after a layoff. That is, start out slow, and let his reactions guide you. Is he sweating and reluctant to go after 30 minutes at a walk? Or does he want to start trotting? Is he stiff & sore the next day? Then each time you ride, go a little further, or trot a bit more.
Just remember that, just as with humans, muscle mass isn't the same as aerobic fitness.
A horse will normally move around and cover a distance equal to 5 or more miles a day if given the space and ability to do so (even just walking around a nice size pasture). Unless you plan to do daily trail rides of more than 10 miles a day (or 60+ miles a week) you won't be putting a healthy, normal horse through anything that it wouldn't do itself. Generally speaking a horse that is just used for a trail ride a couple of times a week is basically not even doing "light" work since most of its time would be spent walking around grazing and not doing any "work".
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