In November I was loaned a horse by a friend. She'd not been used in a while and was out of shape. It being cold and wintery, we are staying indoors. She's in her teens, so I keep that in mind.
I started with a lot of walking. Getting a good swinging walk, then doing circles and patterns and slow and fast walk transitions. About 20 minutes the first few days. That broke a sweat on her, and I didn't want her to sweat much in the cold.
Towards the end of the first week I added brief trots - a couple laps around each way, stretching down. Then the second week I shortened the walking part to 15 minutes, did some trot work for five, walked some more, then a little more trot, then cool out. By now some of the trot was circles and changes of direction.
The third week I added some short canters, but took three to four walking breaks in every 1/2 hour workout and made sure she walked out well at the end so as not to be sore.
By then she was already showing some muscle and not sweating so easily. By week four I was doing pretty much what I still do now: a good 10 minutes walking warmup, then combinations of trot work with some canter, with several short breaks. But I am asking more of her in terms of frame, precision, more complex patterns, more transitions, backing up, turns on the forehand, that sort of thing. And always with a good cool off at the end.
So far that's been very comfortable for her and she enjoys the work.
I'm sure there are many ways to do it, and it would depend on what your goals are, too? I'm just diddling around schooling a horse for my own pleasure, not aiming for show season or anything.
I like to start off with long, low intensity workouts. My program is very similar to what TFP suggested. Keep in mind the horses age. If they are over 15 and have had more than 6 months off, I like to double the time.
I start off with 2-3 weeks of walk trot. Lots of walk at first. bending, stretching, circles, patterns, etc. I usually walk only for the first 5-10 days, depending on age of the horse and how long they've been inactive. Then I add trot. I keep it a nice slow, stretched out trot. I start with 10 minutes and every 3-5 days, add another 5 minutes to that. So then I walk for 5, trot for the 10 minutes plus??? and then walk for another 5-10 minutes. Longer if they need more time to cool out. By the time you are trotting for a full 30 minutes, I add in the canter.
When I add in the canter, I will walk for 5 minutes, trot for 15-20, and start the canter off at 5 minutes. Every week I add a little more until they trot and canter for 15-20 minutes in each work out. In my experience, by that point in time, they are very fit again and ready for training.
I was initially using a watch, but was bored to tears trotting around for 30 minutes. So then I put together a mix of songs on my Ipod that would time it all out for me, and that made it a lot more fun
Strong promoter of READING the entire post before responding.
We are currently bringing a horse back to work after being retired for 18 months. With consideration of some old soft tissue injuries, we are doing it pretty slowly and a lot like we would do with a new soft tissue injury. This is basically how we've done it. If the weather would cooperate a bit more, we'd probably be a little farther along!
3 weeks of walking in hand then onto long lining at the walk. He was walked both in the ring and out in the fields on the hills.
About 3 weeks of riding him at the walk, about 30 minutes, 4-5 days a week. In the ring and in the fields (FYI, if this were a NEW soft tissue, he would have stayed on the flat of the ring).
Now we are at the point of adding in easy trot work. We add about 5 minutes every week. He's currently at 15 minutes and the next move will be a couple of minutes of canter, which we'll add in a few minutes at a time every week. If all goes well, the weather cooperates, and he's happy, he should be doing full flatwork by the end of this month/early March, when we'll start jumping.
This has been on going since Nov/Dec, but we've been taking our very slow time about it and have had to sit out a few days here and there because of bad weather (no indoor). If we'd have had an indoor or good weather, this would have probably taken exactly 3 months.
I also brought my old horse back to work after he took a 9 month mental vacation. I did it quite differently, though, as he was quite fit when he went on vacation and kept himself very fit in turnout. I basically hacked him out on the BIG hills we had available for 6 weeks. I was very scientific about it, but just allowed him to tell me how much he needed. We started out with about 20 minutes of walking, but if he wanted to trot, we'd do a little. By the end of the 6 weeks, we would be out for an hour or more and doing lots of trot and canter. He spent two days in the ring...one for a real dressage school and one for a jump school, then I took to a training level event, where he ripped my arms out all the way around, and crossed the finish flags looking for more.
Some combination of those two systems would probably be more than adequate.
Was the horse in a field for 9 months, or mostly stalled? Small flat field or big hilly field? That makes a big difference in how you get started.
I've brought my horse back several times from multi-month layoffs, one being 13 months. But, he was back to 24x7 turnout on 8-ish not-flat acres for at least 3 months prior to starting work.
1-2 weeks brisk hand walking. There's a big enough change from putzing around the pasture, to briskly walking, that it's worth it. Then 1 week of 20 minutes of u/s walking - briskly. Little to no contact, just stretch and go.
Start contact after that and another week of active walking with "work" - bending, baby lateral work, just testing all the basic parts. Then add 5-10 minutes of trot work, and add a few minutes every 2-3 days. Work up to 30-40 minutes of w/t work, mostly trotting.
Then add canter work the same way until you're at a 45-60 minute good w/t/c ride.
______________________________ The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET
JB is right. Turnout is going to make a huge difference. Until it got icy my teenage was in great shape w/o riding because he plays (i.e. races around) with the young hony and other geldings in their approx 12 acre pasture (with hills).
Hill walking, mentioned above, is a GREAT workout--unfortunately we are so icy and the snow has an ice crust on it now. I hate winter. We have an indoor, but even with great lighting, it is the temp that's killing me--in the single digits by the time I get off of work and I just can't bring myself to ride at night right now. I hate, hate, hate winter.
Was it injury that led to the time off--that would make a difference too.