Advice getting my horse in shape - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 17 Old 05-19-2019, 02:01 PM Thread Starter
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Advice getting my horse in shape

Hello everyone! I bought a new mare whose about 5 years old now and only been under saddle for about a year, I do have a trainer who schools her twice a week for an hour, then 2or 3 days I’ll ride her, just practicing what the trainer does to keep her mind refreshed and get her used to the new information, I also lunge her for 15 mins pre ride every time, my question is do you have any advice for exercises to get her in shape and how long do you rate it will take to see a difference? I do a lot of ground work with her, neck stretches, backing up, yielding the hind quarters, she’s still struggling with the forequarter yield, and leading exercises as she’s still abit pushy, especially if she smells an apple or carrot, she’ll try bulldoze me to get to the treat. I’d love any advice I can get! Thank you!
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post #2 of 17 Old 05-19-2019, 02:24 PM
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Ground poles. Then raised ground poles. Also hills.
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post #3 of 17 Old 05-19-2019, 03:10 PM
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What is the reason you are lunging so much?
In my opinion, lunging fifteen minutes, four to five times a week ("before every ride") is a lot, especially for a young, "out-of-shape" horse already going to get ridden. Lunging to get the horse's attention on you is one thing, but to simply tire them out (before you ride) or exercise (as opposed to riding them) isn't a good habit; in my opinion, if you need to lunge before every ride, then something in the equation is wrong. Lunging is physically strenuous (small, tight, constant circles) and mentally boring ((in their mind) aimless circles) for a horse; do not over-lunge. When conditioning a horse, especially a young, out-of-shape one, you want to start gradually and then try to make it a little challenging, yet not overly strenuous. You also want to try to make it fun so they don't dread their "job."

@ACinATX made a good suggestions ground poles, cavalettis, and hills. I think what you are doing is a good start - having her ridden about four to five times a week, about an hour each. I like (and so do some horses) to work on trotting on a (relatively) loose rein for fitness.
I know she is still green so for now, I'd work more on other things, such as obedience, reliability, balance, relaxation, and various other skills. The more you work with her, the more in-shape she'll get. (Duh! What I'm saying is to work on other things and have other goals besides soley focusing on her fitness.)

I know everyone has a different opinion on work load for young (and/or out-of-shape) horses, but make sure you aren't asking too much too soon.

The saying "it takes as long as it takes" can and does apply to horses and their fitness. There is no set schedule that the horse will be [this fit] by [this time] if you do [this work-out]. Every horse, like people, are individuals and their body handles exercise and conditioning differently. Some see a difference in a few weeks; some see a difference in a few months. Just think, every time you go out and work her, fitness wise, she gets just a little bit better.

"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." - Confucius

Last edited by LoonWatcher; 05-19-2019 at 03:20 PM. Reason: Adding an answer to another question.
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post #4 of 17 Old 05-19-2019, 03:10 PM
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Building relationship and fitness ideas

She's really pretty! I've had good luck with the following:

1) to build the relationship (and a bit of fitness):
--hang out with her with no agenda (pasture, round pen, whatever).
--try some equine massage--the Masterson method is very light touch and great to get bunches of tension release. It's so light, you won't be hurting her due to lack of knowledge (; here's a place to start
for info). Or T-touch is good, too--just google it.
--do some Pirelli games with her (
--work on round penning--walk, trot, canter to voice and body commands, etc.--this will jump start the fitness

2) For fitness:
--under saddle (or in hand if you're not there yet), walking my guy up trails to get his hind end built up works well as a starter in early spring after time off. Or trot, but most folks think walking is better for getting the hind end in shape.
--the round pen work at the walk, trot, canter can be built up in terms of time.
--poles on the ground are good, too, under saddle or just sending her on the ground. You can also begin work with changing direction, stops, backing up, etc. in an arena
--then taking her into a large outdoor arena and doing some walk, trot, canter both ways under saddle is great--build up the time over a few weeks. Great for communication building and getting cardio back in shape.
--ease into trails if you have them available. Hills are good, but the deal is she won't get bored (neither will you!) if you vary her routine and what you're doing.

Hope this helps!

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post #5 of 17 Old 05-19-2019, 08:53 PM
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Hi & welcome!

Originally Posted by Okalax View Post
I also lunge her for 15 mins pre ride every time,
I don't like to use lunging or 'round penning' for exercise purposes. I just use it as a training exercise - might frequently do a minute or few, to 'brush up' or check out where they're at. Doing it just to exercise their body tends to 'sour' the horse to the 'work', bore them, and also especially for a young, unfit horse, can be hard on their joints. Instead, as others have said, hillwork is a good one. Also ground driving, obstacles, etc. which is good for the brain/training side too.

my question is do you have any advice for exercises to get her in shape and how long do you rate it will take to see a difference?
How long's a piece of string? What do you want her fit for? How much exercise are you going to give her? Even then, can't really give a definitive...

struggling with the forequarter yield, and leading exercises as she’s still abit pushy, especially if she smells an apple or carrot, she’ll try bulldoze me to get to the treat.
So it sounds like she needs better training on the ground, &/or she believes she can push you around. Does she do this for the trainer/others, or just you?

Here's one idea... Teach her to yield softly to pressure, 'mind her manners', and reward her with a treat for that, and ensure that her resisting or 'bulldozing' behaviour NEVER works for her. Remember, horses learn from *instant* consequences. And mind not to inadvertently reward/reinforce 'wrong' behaviour.
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Some info I've found helpful; [COLOR=Lime][B]
For taking critique pics; [COLOR=Lime][B]
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post #6 of 17 Old 05-19-2019, 08:57 PM
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If she's broke to ride then just ride her to get her in shape. Lunging is hard on joints and on the boring side. Good long trail rides gets them fit.

Can also do line driving instead of lunging. Ponying them from a good broke horse, is also a good way to get them in shape. Can put trail miles on them Ponying them.

That's how I get my gelding in shape, trail ride lots of long trotting and walking then cantering.
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post #7 of 17 Old 05-20-2019, 04:53 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks everyone for your replies! I really appreciate them!

To clarify, I don’t lunge her to run her into the ground, I lunge her as a warm up before I ride her, walk in the lunge, doing a lot of change of direction then in the trot some change of direction and no cantering yet(except if she spooks at something and has a little freak out then it’s back to trotting) , that’s also when I “play” with her, where I run around like a maniac and she runs after me😂 what I’m trying to achieve by trotting her in the lunge is just to get her to maintain a slow and steady trot because I’ll ask for change of direction and either she’ll stop, or try go full speed, I also do the backing up and groundwork in this time, so it’s not just circle slave driving. Our round pen is quite big btw to it’s not tiny circles, it’s 80m in diameter for an idea of the size. I think the average one is 20m??

Regarding time frame, my aim is to get her ready for outrides in the next 6 months, my group usually go for 1 hour 30 where it’s walk trot and canter in the outride, I’m patient but I’m also a worst case scenario person and I’ve always own a already fit horse which was just maintaining the fitness, I’ve never had to “get a horse fit” thus I was unsure of the average time it would take, but if it takes 3 or 6 months or a year even that’s fine, I was just curious, but I get the whole it takes as long as it takes point!

I’m not a competitive person but we do quite a few training shows just for fun, whether it’s western games, small jumps, working equitation etc so I’d like to have her ready for those in about a year or so, I’m in no rush regarding those!

Regarding her bulldozing for treats she does that with everyone, we’ve been working on it though, every time she gets in my space I make her back up and wait a little, but she’s a greedy little thing so it’s taking some time to get the idea, I don’t reward bad behavior so I’ll wait till she’s out of my space and waited a couple of seconds before giving her a treat, but then as soon as she’s chewing the treat she’s a bulldozer again and I’m back to making her take a step back and waiting a few seconds! You’re definitely right, her ground work needs a lot of work, she’s got no ground manners, the people I got her from coddled her because she’s pretty and they never really worked with her except to ride a little, they didn’t do any ground work with her except to teach her to lift her feet for the farrier. I know the stable yard I got her from quite well and they are all about getting the horse rider ready and not ground and rider ready.

Thanks so much for the advice! I’ll definitely start doing some ground poles, and hills and join another group doing nice and easy outrides until she’s ready, I don’t like riding a horse out and they start sweating white, my personal opinion is that’s a no no because I feel that’s pushing them abit too hard.

Sorry about not quoting certain statements, but I’m still figuring out how to use this forum!

Thanks again!! I really do appreciate the feed back!
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post #8 of 17 Old 05-21-2019, 02:33 PM
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If this horse has been under saddle for over a year then it’s time to get her out and put some miles on. Good long rides will get her fit and expose her to new stimulus which will build her confidence and make a rounded/ well broke horse.
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post #9 of 17 Old 05-21-2019, 02:49 PM
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I never thought I would be able to give Pony treats again because he gets so pushy. And mouthy. And not just that work session but for days and even weeks afterwards. But I read something that has worked for us. This person recommended using really low value treats, even just some hay. That way the horse still understands that it did the right thing, and it gets a reward, but it's not such a huge value reward that it's going to bulldoze you for treats. I've found that alfalfa pellets worked really well for us -- just 1-3 little pellets for a reward. Pony also likes mesquite leaves and I've used that as a reward as well. Since then, I have, very rarely, given him cookies when he's been just super super good, and he hasn't been pushy in a while. So maybe cut down on the apples and carrots and give something that's still nice to eat, but not so irresistable.
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post #10 of 17 Old 05-21-2019, 03:40 PM
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For the kind of riding you want to do (outriding, as you say), it doesn't take that long to get a pasture sound horse up to it. Almost any healthy horse can do a 1.5 hour ride, walk, trot , canter with zero pre-conditioning, actually. But, you are right in that you and she will have a better time if you are more in shape, and used to long rides. My point is just that horses are a lot stronger than we give them credit for. I would just ride her for longer periods of time as a conditioning approach, because part of it is just building up her tolerance to having a rider on her back for long periods of time.

you might also build her patience by riding an hour, then tying her up (leave the saddle on) for a half hour, then getting on and riding ANOTHER hour.

As to her being pushy for treats . . . . I think stopping the action in order to back her up, then waiting , then starting over again is way too much to accomplish your goal. You see, by the time you back her up, and stand there waiting, she has completely lost the connection of that activity as a result of her being pushy. the discipline is not immediate enough.

Here's how I deal with a pushy treat grabber:

I hold a treat in my hand, but I have my hand closed around the treat, inverted (knuckes up). I move my hand toward the horse , and the pushy horse will also move toward me ( you don't want this). When the horse smells the treat, and tries to grab it (remember, he cannot actually SEE things below his nose), he will run into my fist, as I abruptly raise it so that it 'bops' him in the mouth. He will jerk his head up and back, surprised.

I then move my hand forward, toward his mouth, and if he grabs for a treat, it happens again. when I put my fist under his mouth, and he DOESNT grab at it, then I gently roll my fist over to palm up and let him gently take the treat from my hand.

I give my lease horse treats mainly in two ways:

1. when getting him from the pasture, or thanking him for a long ride just after I dismount, I put the treat in my closed fist, then, facing him, I 'wave' my fist up and down rythmically. He can see this. It is a signal that he must back away from me one or two steps, the I bring my hand toward him. If he steps toward me, I wiggle the hand until he backs up.
How is this different from what you are doing? he is not backing up as a result of bad behavior. It is not a punishment. it is basic trick training. I signal a request for some behavior , he complies, then he is rewarded. He is not backed up because he has tried to mug me for a treat. I trained this into him , and had to physically back him, (using a wiggle on the leadline to back him off of me, while never changing my own position) the first few times until he caught on. Now, just the hand signal will make him back up and get ready for me to bring the treat to his mouth.

2. I also treat him when girthing up. He really worries about girthing, so I do it in three pulls, and he gets a small treat with each. However, he must put his head so that he is facing forward, and hold it there for a couple of seconds, I then 'click' and give him the treat (again, i bring it to HIS mouth, he does NOT reach around and take it from my hand), and then do one pull up on the girth. He knows it is going to happen, but he gets something good out of the process, too.
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