Oklahoma is a weird place to condition an event horse. Most of the state is flat. Like really, really flat. (My view on this is a little skewed, as I hail from middle Tennessee, which is nothing but hills.) The region where I live is known as Green Country, and it’s got the most terrain of any part of the state. There are regions of gently rolling hills, but unfortunately, none of these regions are very convenient to the barn.
Luckily, the barn has two large hay fields I can use for conditioning that have the tiniest bit of slope to them. I use the hay field as much as possible to build the horses’ fitness. I’ve been doing more conditioning lately, to prep Moe for a show on October 6 and to get Gina fit for hunt season later next month.
I do a lot of walking with both horses; Gina because she takes a long time to loosen up and work out of her old-lady stiffness, Moe because he is a total fruitcake in the field and needs time to mentally come down from his demented elderly event horse high or something.
I walk along the fence line through the lower and upper fields, which takes about 10 minutes. Then it’s on to trotting a couple of laps around the upper field, which takes 10-15 minutes, depending on which horse I’m on. Canter work comes next, one lap around the upper field for 3-5 minutes at a medium canter. If at any point, the horse I’m on becomes too excited (ahem, Moe), I put them on a figure-8. The figure-8 is more useful than a circle because the horse has to change his balance and think harder about what’s coming next.
A shorter set of walking (3-5 minutes) and another set of trotting (10-15 minutes) follows the canter. If the horses are feeling good (and I have the time), I’ll usually walk again (3-5 minutes) and then canter again. I always cool out with 10 minutes of walking on a loose rein, even if the horses don’t seem hot or aren’t breathing hard. I like to let them stretch and relax and enjoy themselves so they see fields as happy places to remain calm, not places to be anxious or nervous or places to gallop and do nothing else.
This type of conditioning does a pretty good job of building cardiovascular fitness, but I wish I had a great big hill to help build up their butts! Oh well, there’s always the dressage arena…