Horse magazine have put together a few important things to remember when starting to get your horse fit in the new season.
1. Work then food
If you are feeding hard feed, wait at least a week of increased workload before you put up the amount you give your horse. Feeding too much, particularly at this time of year when the grass is starting to grow again, can lead to unwanted weight gain. This can then lead to laminitis in some horses.
2. Slow and steady
If you had been doing not much for three to six months and then someone asked you to run a marathon you would quite likely do yourself an injury. Horses are no different. Start off working mainly in walk with short bursts of trot when hacking out. Keep schooling to around half hour sessions to start with and don't include too much canter work. Gradually increase the work load as the horse's fitness improves. Hill work is excellent, walking up hills strengthens the muscles and trotting up them will improve fitness.
3. Warm ups and Cooling Down
Warming up and cooling down is always important, but especially when the horse's muscles may not be used to exercise. In a half an hour schooling session on a horse that has not worked much all winter, aim for ten minutes warm up, ten minutes actual work and ten minutes cool down. You can increase the schooling sessions as his fitness improves. A light sweat is the sign of a good work out, if he needs hosing off you have probably overdone it.
4. Do It Yourself
In order to help your horse and ride more effectively you need to be fit too. Try and incorporate more exercise into your daily routine if possible. Also most horse riders are quite tense because of the muscles used when riding. Do some stretches, particularly focusing on calves, hamstrings and shoulders to loosen you up.
Horses get bored just like we do. Try and do some different things to keep it interesting. Instead of schooling five days a week go for a couple of hacks. Where it is safe you could do some leg yield and five metre loops while you hack out to build on his lateral work. If it is suitable for your horse, loose schooling or lunging can be a great way to improve fitness, and is also quicker than going out for a long hack if you are short on time.