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Conditioning the pleasure trail horse

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  • Conditioning the pleasure trail horse

    I've always believed that pleasure trail riders need to condition their horses much the same as those doing competitive trail and endurance, but at a lower intensity level. I've never been a "weekend warrior" when it comes to riding my horse. But, I know quite a few people who think nothing of riding all day (6+ hours) on both Saturday and Sunday, covering up to 20+ miles each day, much of it over hilly/mountainous terrain with no riding during the week days. And, these are horses that usually have about 5 months off every winter. They may start the spring with a couple of weekends of shorter rides or 3-4 hours, but then it's kicked right up to the long rides very quickly.

    Any time I voice my opinion about believing that the horses need to be slowly built up to even do 3-4 hour rides and the need to ride several days a week for conditioning, not just long rides on the weekend, I get told that since the horses are not travelling at a fast pace, they can start right out with long rides in the spring.

    I don't plan to change anything I do, but some times I start to feel like I'm the only one who thinks this way and that I'm on another planet. I wouldn't expect to be able to go hiking in the mountains for several hours without conditioning for it; I don't expect it from my horse either. Am I the only one who thinks the way I do? What do you pleasure trail riders do as far as conditioning? Do you just start with long rides, and am I just too concerned about my horse?
    Horse'in around in Upstate NY

  • #2
    I'm with you, dm. If nothing else, the horses' backs need to be conditioned to carry a rider for that length of time. Do these same people throw themselves into a 2-3 hour hike with a full backpack without working up to mileage? After all, they are only walking. How would they feel about doing 6 hour hikes with a full backpack? They'd be looking for a spa by the end of the day!

    I remember reading a long time ago about fox hunters who used to start their horses walking before the hunt season began. This program talked about walking for 10 minutes for so many days, then up to 20, and so on, just to get the horses' backs in shape to carry a rider for that length of time a hunt takes. For 30 years now I've always begun to condition my horses at a walk before taking longer rides on them. If I don't have the time to condition them properly, then I don't take them on long rides. Period.

    I guess maybe I'm very sympathetic to the horses, because I used to run 6 miles several times a week and work out with weights on the off days. Or, I'd swim two miles several times a week. I couldn't jump in the pool and do 2 miles or take off on a 6 mile jog without a lot of conditioning first. Why would I expect my horse to be any different?

    I'm guessing that people who don't take the time to properly condition their horses never engaged in a serious exercise program themselves. They lack empathy for the horse, I guess.
    "Passion without knowledge is a runaway horse."


    • #3
      Ooh, I share your concern, exactly. Mine now get the winter off (back east when hunting they got part of the summer off) and they aren't completely unfit as they are out moving all the time, but I always start back after a layoff of more than a couple of months with a 15-30 minute walk depending on the horse (in my experience a really fit horse will hold most of his conditioning for six weeks, but that decreases incrementally depending on fitness level). I do get mine conditioned so they could do a day of hunting or a 25 mile ride w/o issues, can't help it, just what I'm used to doing and truly not hard to do. But those that I ride with (as you mention, pull the horse out of the paddock after 4-5 months off and just go for full day of riding) are amazed that my horses can just cruise on up a 1000-foot ridge where theirs have to stop and blow several times. It is hard even for the vets to convince folks in these parts that conditioning is important- as you note, the rationale is 'we're going slow' but even going slow a little basic muscle tone is needed!


      • Original Poster

        Yes, I've never understood how people can rationalize this in their head. I read an article recently written by Bob Avila (performance QH trainer) where he wrote that he feels it's borderline abusive for people to just ride their horses on long weekend rides without preparing them for it by conditioning gradually and doing rides during the week for conditioning.

        It always made sense to me that my horses needed to be in condition for what I was asking of them. I remember a several day campout trip I did with friends where we did 4-6 hour easy going trail rides with some significant hills for 3 days straight. My horse was coming off an eye injury and I had to borrow a horse. A friend lent me her horse, a bulldog QH that was conditioned gradually and used to being ridden 1-2 hours a couple of times during the week and a longer weekend trail ride by the time of our ride. I knew this horse had a solid conditioning base, or I never would have taken her on the ride. She finished each day looking fresh as a daisy, a little tired, but nothing major. Whereas, I've seen the "weekend" horses do rides and they get through them, but they are pretty tired afterwards and have this "haggard" look about them. But, the weekend people think that's OK. I guess as long as their horse doesn't have a major injury, it's OK with them. I just don't like my horse to feel that fatigued and tired when there is something I can do about it to prevent it, by conditioning properly in advance.

        I used to be an avid hiker. I thought nothing of going for a mountainous hike for several hours on a Saturday because I was conditioned for it and did hikes during the week too. Yes, I was tired after the longer ones, but not excessively so. Then I backed off my hikes and a couple months later went on a weekend day hike of about 3 hours in the mountains. OMG--I felt like I was going to die! Even coming down the mountain was difficult because my muscles were so weak and it was causing me to be uncoordinated. So, I know how it feels. I think matryoshka is absolutely right on about weekend warrior riders not being able to feel empathy for their horses because they haven't experienced strenuous exercise themselves. It really does change your perspective.
        Horse'in around in Upstate NY


        • #5
          These weekend warriors who don't believe in conditioning their horses are also the ones who wouldn't know if their horse was lame unless the horse's leg fell off. Unfortunately, there are tons of people out in the world that think it's no big deal to just ride whenever, however long etc just because they want to. Tired, unconditioned horses are at much greater risk of injury to themselves and you. I have to admit, I don't do many long rides, the average for me is about 3 hours.I do ride almost every day though for about 45 min to an hour.


          • #6
            Good Point.
            "Passion without knowledge is a runaway horse."


            • #7
              I do most of my riding on the weekend but I ride all winter and try not to let them sit for longer than 2 weeks at a time. I start my horses doing short rides (under 2 hours) on flat terrain at a walk if they are out of condition and gradually increase the time and demand over a longer period. By the time summer starts and riding season really kicks into gear my horses are prepared and ready to go. Unfortunately, the DH thinks nothing of letting his horse sit for months on end and then expecting them to put in a full day's work. I try to encourage him to ride more during the winter but he's more consumed with fishing and if it's raining, forget it.

              One time particularly comes to mind when you mentioned the horses looking haggard after a ride. I was riding with some friends down at Crystal Mountain which is near Mt. Rainier. We went for the full day ride and this is very challenging where you are continually climbing for the first half so horses need to be in very good condition. The ride is a minimum of 5 hours not counting rest breaks and a lunch stop.

              At the end of the ride, my friend's horses looked like they had been through the ringer and were all drawn up. They immediately fell asleep when they were untacked even though they had hay in front of them. My horse was still fresh and looking around for something to do. He wanted to keep on going and wasn't ready to call it a day. I really felt badly for those other horses that were clearly not in shape for this ride and, unfortunately, you see it everywhere.
              Yogurt - If you're so cultured, how come I never see you at the opera? Steven Colbert


              • #8
                I agree that a horse outside 24/7 can be in a certain amount of "condition" compared to a horse that is stalled part of most of the day - but any horse needs to have their back conditioned to support a rider and tack.

                I had not ridden in the last 4 months. In addition to asking my horse to carry my butt around for 20 minutes the other day, I had hauled him 40 minutes and then 40 minutes home. The hauling time and their need for condition to do that has to be considered as well. Since my horse is 19 this year, I think it's going to be a little longer conditioning each year...

                As Matryoshka said...
                If I don't have the time to condition them properly, then I don't take them on long rides. Period.
                Yup. Once he's in adequate condition, then I don't worry much about longer hauls for camping either. Sometimes a few of us will haul 3 - 4 hours away but only ride 2 - 3 hours a day once we arrive - so the horses have rest time each day and time to compensate for the hauling.


                • #9
                  "Yup. Once he's in adequate condition, then I don't worry much about longer hauls for camping either. Sometimes a few of us will haul 3 - 4 hours away but only ride 2 - 3 hours a day once we arrive - so the horses have rest time each day and time to compensate for the hauling."

                  That's what we do too when we haul a long distance. Hauling is hard on horses what with having to constantly shift their weight to balance. We'll let them rest for a few hours after arriving at camp and if there's enough daylight left, take them out for a short 1 hour ride to stretch and then let them rest until the next day with a full hay bag in front of them.
                  Yogurt - If you're so cultured, how come I never see you at the opera? Steven Colbert


                  • #10
                    My coming 23yo (next week!) mare pretty much had the winter off. I handwalked her on the trails when I could and took her for shorter rides (20-60min) through deeper snow. She basically got out once or twice a week. But she is also on 24/7 with a stall.
                    This spring when we started back, I'd ride for 20 minutes (walking only), hand walk for 20 (usually during the steep hilly sections), and ride for 20.
                    This occurred two to three times a week.
                    On the weekends we'd go for 40, 20, 40 with a little bit of mounted hill, and a little bit of trot.
                    Now on the weekends we head out for 3-4 hour rides, usually taking a 20 minute break halfway. We mostly walk and trail trot, occassionaly canter/hand gallop, and sometimes jump a few logs and obstacles I set up in the 'near' woods.
                    On the weeknights I try to ride at least twice for an hour or so - often it's by moonlight (course we haven't had much of that lately here in the northeast!).
                    Bridal Sweet 05/28/1983 to 01/23/2008


                    • #11
                      since I once went on a trail ride with a "weekend warrior" and had her horse collapse two hours into the ride, I share your opinion. These folks are abusing their horses. How many people do you know who can get up off the couch and walk for six hours without suffering all sorts of painful problems? My SO walks an hour a day routinely, and the other day he ended up walking around a convention center all day and the next day was practically crippled with a severe case of shin splints.


                      • #12
                        My reply when told this, after expressing concern is to weekend warrior riders is..

                        Fine, how about you go hike 26 miles but make sure you walk slowly, and then get back to me on monday and tell me how great you are feeling?

                        My bad
                        Originally posted by ExJumper
                        Sometimes I'm thrown off, sometimes I'm bucked off, sometimes I simply fall off, and sometimes I go down with the ship. All of these are valid ways to part company with your horse.


                        • #13
                          Gosh people,

                          Talk about grouping many people into a bucket and stamping everyone with the same stamp. But then this thread was written to vent on persons that understand a little more about horses being animals, and not foo foo pets for the people that seem to think animals are humans.

                          Horses have survived centuries with humans using them for transportation and work…they are beasts of burden. Ok, ok…don’t go and group me in your abusive owner list because I feel different than many of you…there are gray areas. Not everyone is unfeeling if they choice to feel horses are not humans. Horses were used by humans because they are able to work…to pull to be exact. I guess all the people that owned horses all those centuries back were abusive. Were did this attitude start?

                          I choose to believe that different breeds of horses were bred to succeed in different sports…this would give credence to the fact that breeders seem to know what they are doing. My point being…you can’t expect a heavy draft, or even quarter horse to do what an Arabian, or TB can do on a trail. That being said I can give many of you your empathizing point for these horses that were NOT designed to do hours in the saddle on a trail. Understand what I am saying is that a Quarter horse bred for roping, or a draft designed for pulling will find it exhausting to do hours of trail (too much muscle mass and heat). Then let me add…horses that are kept in a stall 20 hrs + have muscles of Jell-o. But then I find that cruel in another subject. Talk about convenience for owners and uncaring for horses!

                          What I am saying is…horses that are allowed to be horses and are bred for that vocation, such as Arabs, TB’s, Morgans, and the like - when kept in fields and used all year round (winter off is acceptable) can jump back into shape and knock off some serious trail with lower amounts of conditioning. Sure the OP is talking about pleasure riding, so I will say that is different than an endurance or Comp horse…but still, if these people are true weekend warriors and ride every weekend…I can make a guess these horses do get in shape at some point in their lives and are not ABUSED animals because their owners chose to ride them at their leisure. After all…many people buy horses to ride and not just wash and put in braids. And factually, horses get in better shape with several hours in the saddle and several days off more so than horses ridden 45mins a day.

                          There are many forms of abuse in horses….riding them I feel is one of the lower ones. How about leaving them in stalls all day, in the heat, the cold, and stuffy barns with no fresh air…there’s abuse! How about not understanding they are part of nature and not little puppy dogs that enjoy being blow dried and nails polished.

                          Sorry to not understand much of what is said here, but I believe a happy horse is a used horse. I have never seen a horse standing in a stall 24/7 as happy, nor a horse that isn’t’ allowed to blow off some steam from time to time. I see depressed, and rude horses that just wish they could act like a horse and not be some person’s foo foo pet.

                          Lastly, sure there are owners that can’t even look at a horse and see issues; poor conformation, poor saddles, poor health, or not designed to do the sport there owners chose. Please lets not assume that all these people are weekend warriors – as I feel many know and understand what their horses can and can not do.

                          Flame away!
                          **Founding member of the TQ (Trail Queen) \"Learn How to Ride or MOVE OVER!\" Clique** 2005 Winner of the \"Rush Limbaugh of the Trails\" Award

                          Rope The Moon Ranch RTM Breeders of Anglo-Arabs, and Performers of


                          • #14
                            LOL...I was waiting for someone to present that viewpoint! My Arabian is able to maintain her condition very easily...I still ride her 2-3 times a week, but if I go out of town for a week, she still performs the same when I get back, and would do well as a "weekend warrior" horse as long as she could be a horse on her days off. She doesn't want to be babied, coddled, fussed over...

                            OTOH, one of my Paso Fino's (the lazy one ), needs constant riding to stay in condition..don't know if I'll ever get her to the point where she won't need that...and this horse loves to be groomed and fussed over. I respect each individual's abilities and personalities. Having experienced such drastic differences, I could never generalize and say that weekend warriors are hurting their horses...but I can agree that the potential is there, depending on the horse.

                            Hmm there've been a lot of "it depends on the individual horse" threads lately...


                            • #15
                              I think that was the point actually no?
                              There is a distinct difference between horse/people who ride a conditioned horse once a week, and those who haven't been on their horse for 5 months and then simply take it out for a 6 hour strenous workout and wonder why their horse suddenly ties up and ends up on an IV drip. Those are weekend warriors.
                              Horses keep their condition for a fairly long period of time, esp long distance horses, who yes..can sit for a few weeks and then happily go on a jaunt no probelm. The issue being, they already are conditioned well.
                              Originally posted by ExJumper
                              Sometimes I'm thrown off, sometimes I'm bucked off, sometimes I simply fall off, and sometimes I go down with the ship. All of these are valid ways to part company with your horse.


                              • #16
                                I wouldn't expect to be able to go hiking in the mountains for several hours without conditioning for it; I don't expect it from my horse either.

                                Neither do I. I think - could I do this? I'm more sedentary than they are, so I figure it's a decent litmus test. They are out 24/7 on pasture, and they get around -up and down hills, etc...

                                What do you pleasure trail riders do as far as conditioning? Do you just start with long rides, and am I just too concerned about my horse?

                                We take it easy. We do haul to some areas around here to ride, but we ride only 4 hours or so, on average, with lots of stops and rests, usually a lunch break, too. If we go to FL, where it's flat, we might ride some longer rides, but not usually. We also ride year round, save for August -too damn hot.

                                The 'weekend warriors' of which you speak are the same ones who just plain don't care. They don't. No point fretting it. They won't learn until and unless they want to.


                                • #17
                                  On the subject of tie-up…

                                  It generally happens to horses that are in Top condition…called the Monday blues. Reasons are several, and usually have nothing to do with being out of condition at all, quite the opposite.

                                  Many issues deal with the consumption of food, more so than a horse out-of-condition. Horses that are high impact...race horses, endurance/comp horses, and the like.

                                  Sure, horses that have No muscle (or poor, or weak muscle) can pull, or rip tendons and muscles, but hardly ever do they tie-up. It could be the rider is assuming a tie-up.

                                  A tie-up demands no movement at all when happening and the horse is completely uninterested in any movement. Whereas torn, pulled muscles the horse will still try to move, but display distress.

                                  Honestly, a tie-up is a complete different ballgame caused by completely different reasons. The reason you get an IV is to dilute the destroyed muscles that poisons the blood stream and threatens the kidneys and such…NOT because they are dehydrated.

                                  Just clearing up a misconception here.
                                  **Founding member of the TQ (Trail Queen) \"Learn How to Ride or MOVE OVER!\" Clique** 2005 Winner of the \"Rush Limbaugh of the Trails\" Award

                                  Rope The Moon Ranch RTM Breeders of Anglo-Arabs, and Performers of


                                  • #18
                                    RTM Anglo, you make many good points, I think what some of us were thinking was those who pull a horse out after some months off and expect it to do some pretty strenuous climbing in the mountains, for example. A horse that's ridden every weekend would be fine in many situations where I have seen horses close to crashing. I guess the point I'm trying to convey is that 'just walking' is not all that easy on a horse if you are in steep, rocky terrain.


                                    • #19

                                      Yes, I agree with you about the walking up steep hills is stressful. Many people seem to feel it is easier on the horse than a trot or canter. I have used heart monitors for years, and have used them to prove this. Still, many people disagree.

                                      I too have seen many owners ride their horses completely unaware of the stress and hardship their mounts are going through. I have seen people that have had horses for years and years still unaware of the simplest issues. It is only the observant persons that care who notice and make changes.
                                      So, what is abuse? Is it the horse that is starved and never wormed or shod and has an owner too cheap to buy good food? Or the owner that doesn't understand not to tie a horse by it's bit - or too long - or too short of line? Is it then the rider who feeds, worms, and cares for their animal only to not fully condition and take out on a strenuous ride once or twice a year?

                                      So, what is abuse, and who has the right to label another with it? Where do we draw the line between helping another, and plain interfering in their rights to own an animal? Ok, I love the horse, and treat my horses very well indeed, and sure I get a little peeved when seeing horse owners do stupid, or neglectful things – But is persecuting another the answer?

                                      Sometimes I get so annoyed with people that have to label another for not having their good sense (or so they think). Would it be better to give these horses to neglectful owners than to have them over worked now and then?

                                      Ok, not advocating stupidity...just trying to be realistic in a world full of people. Just trying to understand not every tool in the shed is sharp. I guess I just see so many other things that are more damaging to horses than this.
                                      **Founding member of the TQ (Trail Queen) \"Learn How to Ride or MOVE OVER!\" Clique** 2005 Winner of the \"Rush Limbaugh of the Trails\" Award

                                      Rope The Moon Ranch RTM Breeders of Anglo-Arabs, and Performers of


                                      • #20
                                        Labeling? Abuse?

                                        RTM Anglo, correct me if I'm wrong, but you are the person who brought up the term abuse. The OP was questioning conditioning--I don't think she called it abusive not to condition our horses properly. Stupid, yes, but abusive?

                                        I'm not sure what group you think we are putting people in. I believe we were talking about people who overuse their horses for their level of conditioning and don't think there is any problem with that. I'm still not calling it abuse. I wasn't aware we were doing anything more than discussing proper conditioning and likening it to humans exercising.

                                        I do believe the term "weekend warrior" to be derogatory. I implies people who don't care well for their horses during the week and ride them for hours and hours on the weekends. I don't think it applies to owners who care well for their horses and only ride on the weekend with an eye to how the horse is handling the level of exercise. Good horsemen are good horsemen whether they ride all week or just on the weekends. You can be a good horseman and not ride at all, for that matter.

                                        So, I certainly wasn't labeling anybody. Were you?
                                        "Passion without knowledge is a runaway horse."