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Conditioning After Winter

A new year brings the excitement of a new season! We have had our break and it is time to start thinking about our 2018 equine goals! Buy a new day planner and lets get to work getting your horse ready to go.

One of the most commonly asked questions is when to start getting your horse back to work? I would like to shed some light onto this question and provide a couple different options. I will also talk about when the best time to incorporate water treadmill training into your program.

I can’t emphasize enough that these are my own personal opinions taken from my own experience, and might not be ideal for you and your equine athlete.

Let’s start with why we need to condition our horses. The tasks we are asking of them are unnatural and require a high level of athleticism. It is important that our horse’s bodies are strong and able to complete the task at hand, as well as reduce the chance of injury. Conditioning helps the horse to be powerful and able to do what they are asked effectively and efficiently.

How quickly horse’s condition back into shape depends on a few factors:

  • Age,
  • breed/genetic predisposition to conditioning,
  • how much time they’ve had off,
  • pre-vacation fitness level.

This list, looks fairly short, but it does play a big role in conditioning horses.


A lot of people start conditioning when it works for them and their schedule. Heck, I know some people who do not condition at all, they hop on and go! But in today’s ever changing world, you need to stay ahead of the game to get ahead in competition. Any horse can be a gifted athlete if given the chance to show themselves: that’s where we come in.

Starting with a calendar and writing down the date of the first event/rodeo/show that you want enter, is really the first step. From there we want your horse competition ready about 3 weeks before. This allows some time to make competition runs in the practice pen and get our (and their) mental game back on point.

I would say in the Coulee clientele, the average horse gets approximately 2 months off in the winter time, with minimal to no riding depending on the weather and snow. In this case, if a horse has had over a month off in the winter we like to do a lot of straight conditioning and strength training before starting to add any speed to their maneuvers. After that initial month where we work to restore them, another couple weeks of increased speed and getting ready for competition in the practice pen is ideal.

Water treadmill training can be a great addition to any conditioning program. The resistance of the water helps to get the muscles even stronger and faster than dry land training. It is all straight line work which is so nice for horses in the winter! Riding in an arena, all of our work is in circles, when the horse has to work in straight lines they have to use their body equally on all 4 limbs. This is great for helping them recover from injury compensation or just making them use their bodies to their full potential. With our water treadmill we have the option to fill it all the way past their bellies or to vary the water level height. Depending on your horse, what we are trying to strengthen, and your goals for them we can use different water heights to work different muscle groups. This adds to your horses work out and helps them get strong everywhere! Water treadmill training is great for the physical aspect, but it is also great for the mental aspect! In general the horses love to work in the water treadmill! It is a way for them to get in shape and give their minds a break as well. Usually when they spend a couple weeks at Coulee they come feeling fresh, sometimes a little too fresh and need some lunging. 😉

Water treadmill training is not just for muscle strengthening either! We have done a study with the University of Calgary measuring the effect of water treadmill training on the lungs in conditioning cases. The results were great! Being able to be a part of such a cool study helped us to improve our programs even more! The benefits of the water treadmill are endless and I truly believe that if you can make it work with your budget and schedule it is worth every penny to help your horses be strong and balanced going into the first event of the year!


I would like to touch a bit more on my list above and explain why each of these factors are important to consider when conditioning.

Age: Age is very important when conditioning horses. Young horse do condition faster than older horses. We also like to take a bit more time to work the older horses up to longer sessions because their bodies do not have the same recovery time as the young ones. In general, an aged horse can have an old injury or two that they need to work through as well, so taking a little extra time with an older horse is important.

Breed/Genetic predisposition to conditioning: I like to think of horses as people when it comes to conditioning. A human can not go to the gym once and be in the greatest shape of their life. But some humans have an easier time getting into shape than others. With equine athletes, we find a similar pattern. They all need time to get into shape and just because they look fit does not mean they are, some condition faster than others based on their breed or who their parents are.

How much time off they’ve had off: A horse that has only had a couple months off will come back into shape a lot faster than a horse that has had a year off. We need to take into consideration how much time off they have had when building a program for them coming back.

Pre-vacation fitness level: People do not think of this one as much but it can make a big difference. If you have two horses that have both had 6 months off, but before that, Horse A was in competition shape and had been all summer and Horse B had been rode 1-2 times a week lightly for the summer but was still overweight. When you want to get them back into work Horse B will take much longer to safely bring to competition shape.

This is a very short version on getting geared up for summer! Remember having a horse in good shape before starting to haul will reduce the chance of injury and increase your chance of reaching your goals!  We are always happy to answer questions on your particular situation and horses.  Just reach out to us!

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