How do people seemingly “sculpt” their horses? Take the AQHA (quarter horse) for example. Same breed but so many variations!
Well most horses are built for their “jobs”. Just like us they adapt and become stronger due to what their daily routine is. A broodmare is going to be very different from a barrel horse due to daily routine and what is demanded of them. Same with reining horses v.s jumpers. Same breed but opposite builds due to their jobs. Horses are bred a certain way in order to be successful in their careers. For instance you wouldn’t ask a reining horse to jump Grand Prix or vice versus.
We condition each horse differently to better prepare them for their busy season which is spring and summer. Competitions, nice weather and colt starting cones with nice weather. Let’s do our best to “set our horses up to succeed”.
In the spring we don’t just expect our “pasture potato” who thinks their new job is to be a glorified, braided lawn mower, to go compete the next day and win. There’s steps and a schedule of customized workouts leading up to success. They are athletes and have to be built up slowly as such. Without conditioning properly you can cause serious injury to the animal.
To start out any horse I like to do a lot of trotting to build up muscle and slowly increase endurance. Trotting is a balanced gait and helps ease the horse into work again. I don’t lope them the first two weeks nor do I ask them to work for a specific time. I watch their bodies and go at their pace. I see veins coming out but no sweat yet, then reverse go the other way same number of laps and by then their chest is sweaty but nothing excessive. We stop then walk out until cool then end our lesson. I work them every other day to help with muscle soreness they get a day in between of rest and pasture turn out to stretch. Each day they get into better condition and the workouts are longer. After three weeks of trotting only I ask for the lope two laps each way. Loping or cantering help develop the horses wind and endurance. The more loping you do the leaner the muscle on the horse. More trotting then you’ll add bulk. I always offer my horses water after cooled off before going in their stalls. This way I can monitor how hydrated they are and if they are very thirsty I’ll add electrolytes in their grain post workout to help replenish their bodies of lost salts from workouts.
“No pain no gain!” Isn’t always true. I like to think more along the lines of “slow and steady wins the race” with this schedule in order to get them to their peak condition in time for summer. Diet is also a major factor just like athletes you’re not going to make progress very well if you don’t eat right or give your body what it needs to succeed. Same with horses. Develop a customized feed plan for each horse, after all they are athletes even if they are trail horses.