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Dressage Horse Training Hours

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    Dressage Horse Training Hours

    Hey all, curious about just how much riding time per week does it take to get a dressage horse in competitive shape, especially for the regional and/or national level? I know it really depends on the horse and level of training but would be interested in a ballpark amount. Say for someone looking to compete at 1st through 3rd levels?

    . And how many of you incorporate cross training as part of your horses conditioning program?

    Back, back in the olden days of mine, I was told the horse needed at least six hours of riding a week to be minimally in shape to be competitive. I found this to be true from what I remember.

    Thanks for your responses!
    When you love horses as they are, freedom fills your heart and fairness becomes your desire

    Do you mean hours of schooling in the ring, or do you mean actual fitness work like trot sets in trails like eventers do?


      Original Poster

      Thanks Scribbler, actually I would be interested in both, whatever exercise a competitive dressage rider does on their horse to get them in shape for competition. Whether it's in the dressage ring or out of it
      When you love horses as they are, freedom fills your heart and fairness becomes your desire


        It definitely depends on the horse. Like people, some horses build and hold muscle mass more easily than others. I found with my horse (~ 10 yrs old, 4th level warmblood) that, at a minimum, 3 training rides a week could keep her fit - about 45 minutes of real work (excluding walking warmup and cool down) (which is what we had to live with during the initial COVID lockdown). Four days a week of work is better, five is better (with one day maybe being a bit easier than a typical training ride). Six might be better, but I'll never know as I just don't have the time (but I can get her and keep her fit with 4-5 days). So, 4-5 hours a week of real work is probably a realistic minimum.

        We wish we did more cavalletti work, but realistically our "cross training" is light hacking with some (very modest) hills. (More cross training for the brain than body, but it works for us.)

        It also depends on whether your horse is stalled the rest of the time, in turnout on flat ground, or in turnout on hills (which would be ideal).


          The proverbial 'it depends' aside I have done so with a minimum of 4 times a week riding leading up to a competition, often trying to squeeze in 5 times a week the two weeks just before the 'show'. Though I know it would have been better to have ridden more often, work and family obligations just would not allow it. Riding sessions took how ever long was necessary to feel some progress and end on a good note. Usually my rides were 40-60 minutes in the arena at least 3 times a week with a long trail ride/conditioning work once, sometimes twice a week. I would log an average of 10 miles a week trail riding/hacking out. I have cavallettis and jumps to switch things up and work on strengthening the hind end as well. This is pretty much what I've had to do with all of mine including my current guy who is solid second level, schooling flying changes and getting ready for third. It is important to note as stated above that my horses are out 24/7. Their turn out is flat but my hacking out incorporates a lot of incline work. I'll also add that what I produce (retired breeder and current mount is fourth generation of my breeding program) comes out with a very strong engine which I find is easy to maintain and build on with consistent work knowing what exercises do that - it's quality not quantity for my herd due to lifestyle choices (or not since someone has to pay for all this).
          Ranch of Last Resort


            A ditto on the above posts. My horses live out and are VERY active out, so in general it's the weight training aspect of schooling which is needed, not aerobic fitness. Things are very flat where we are and my trainer actually built a hill into the turnout. He meant to make it like a track system, but instead the horses strengthen themselves by going up and down it all the time, as they prefer over to around. So really, riding becomes mental training rather than physical.
            If Kim Kardashian wants to set up a gofundme to purchase the Wu Tang album from Martin Shkreli, guess what people you DON'T HAVE TO DONATE.


              It is very difficult in the AZ summer to work a horse more than 30 minutes, even with a covered arena. Fortunately we have a water treadmill to help maintain fitness. Most horses are worked under saddle 4-5 days with one additional day on treadmill.


                I think it varies tremendously in terms of how the horse is kept, its body type and temperament, and even age. Also, fitness for 1st level is not going to be sufficient for 4th.
                I have a crossbred gelding who is naturally very fit and strong - gets fit, and stays fit, more easily than any other horse I have had. He’ll come home from a day hunting first field sweaty when everyone else is lathered - that kind of fit.
                He lives out on 70 hilly acres, has a natural engine, and never spends more than 3 days a week schooling dressage. He hacks out (at some speed, on hills, over logs, etc.) usually twice a week and jumps once a week. I don’t think he’d be as happy, healthy, or amenable to the work if he spent all his under saddle time doing dressage. Plus we like doing other things!
                We are prepping for our 3rd level move up and my coach says he could do PSG in time. I never, ever worry about his fitness for what I’m asking of him now.
                I was pleased at how well he kept his fitness during quarantine - we weren’t allowed at the barn for just over 2 months, and he got ridden 20 mins a day 3 times a week by my eventing coach - correctly ridden but not really working on 2nd or certainly 3rd level stuff. It took me over a month (I’m over 50) to get my riding fitness back, but by the time I did he felt terrific just being back in his regular schedule.
                I think the living out on hills, hacking out on hills, and cross training helps a lot...but he is also a phenomenal natural athlete (I don’t mean super talented, I mean just by build and genetics he is very athletic - makes everything else easy, except sometimes directing all that energy. He can be spicy!).

                The issue of training time is very different. I have limited access to my coach (every 2 weeks at the moment), and obviously we’d be a lot further along if I rode with her more. But that is reflected in the pace of our progress - how quickly we go up the levels - not in our ability to progress period. Even if I could, however, I don’t think I’d want to ride more than once a week with my coach. She’s amazing but intense, and I find I need some rides on my own to process and begin to feel and replicate what we do in lessons...and if I cut out the hacking and jumping I’d have a much less willing - and possibly less sound - partner.
                The big man -- my lost prince

                The little brother, now my main man


                  All the horses in my trainer’s program are ridden / worked 5 days a week. Length of ride could range from 20 minutes to an hour, depending on what she’s trying to accomplish, the horse’s fitness, and how the horse is feeling that day. Not every day is a schooling day. They all hack on the hills at least once per week, some more. She incorporates lungeing, long lining and / or in hand work with most of them at various points in the training process.

                  I don’t think there is a one size fits all answer to your question. Quality of riding / training is more important that quantity, aside from a basic minimum required to build and maintain fitness. But even that must be done correctly. Building the wrong muscles won’t help a horse achieve the strength, balance, flexibility and self-carriage needed to move up the levels.


                    I think you also need to mindful of your horse's mind set. I firmly believe that doing the same thing over and over again is not really in everyone's best interests. I know more than a few people who incorporate regular hacking, jumping, long lining, and pole work (take a look at Ingrid or Carl or Charlotte).


                      I have a very fit OTTB who is schooling 2nd. Keeping him fit is a breeze honestly. I ride 4-5 times/week. Three of those rides are arena days, one of which is an easier stretch an lower frame day. Then I hit the hay field for another day which is a long hill workout essentially. Then if I've got the time, I do a really easy "on the buckle" ride where we will probably only walk.

                      But most of the variety is for his mental health and not physical.

                      He's also turned out in 1/3 acre lot during the day and on a 1.5-3 acre pasture at night (depending which pasture is being grazed at the time). All of my property is gently rolling hills.

                      My other horse is fat on air and would be MUCH harder to get truly fit. Thankfully he's semi-retired so it doesn't matter. But I'd have to do a lot of trail/hack riding with him and trot/gallop sets plus arena work.


                        My PSG horse is pretty fit. He does 6 - 7 days per week, two hacking, one stretchy, 3 - 4 work work. Hacking is pretty typically hill work, we do 3-4 times up and down a 30 degree half mile hill. Typically he'll have to medium trot/canter up. I've started mixing in changes on the uphill, and rein back/piaffe while heading back down the hill.

                        Arena work is typically 15 - 20 min of warm up, stretching, lateral work, then 15-20 of collection, then 5 - 10 min cool out.

                        The only issue with getting your horse this fit is what happens when you can't make it out... I missed three days due to work deadlines, and he was explosive off during the hill work; practically bolting off with me the whole time, and came strolling back in after 45 min with a light sheen, feeling like he just warmed up.


                          Original Poster

                          Thank you everyone, I love seeing the variety of programs. Good point about all the environmental factors that go into consideration. I always felt and noticed that horses, no matter their personality or natural fitness level, seemed so much happier and fitter if they are in some sort of cross training program instead of constant drill, drill drill round and round in the dressage ring. Think we have all seen too much of that before. One thing's for sure, keeping a horse in a consistent effective and fair conditioning/training program is a big commitment to fit into most of our lives
                          When you love horses as they are, freedom fills your heart and fairness becomes your desire