Conditioning work

Aerial view of Green Country land.

Oklahoma is a weird place to condition an event horse. Most of the state is flat. Like reallyreally 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.

Looking out across the lower field.
Looking out across the lower field.

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.

Looking toward the barn.
Looking toward the barn.

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…


Author: Stephanie

Equestrian, amateur cook, people person.

10 thoughts on “Conditioning work”

  1. It’s very flat near me too! Thanks for sharing your conditioning routine. 🙂

    I try to go in and out of the ditches next to the road where I ride….it’s like a mini hill. I do lots of poles and backing up when I can too. 🙂

  2. my horse is a freakin lunatic in our little field at home so i rarely use it for conditioning… love your approach tho and really should be doing more of this type of work

    1. Gina is surprisingly very calm in the field- she’s less anxious there than she is in the arena!

      Moe, on the other hand, is crazy. He power walks around, which I am okay with, but ask him to trot? Either nervous jigging or extended-trot-why-aren’t-you-letting-me-canter-you-mean-woman. Cantering is somewhere between “reasonable gallop” and “speed of light”, but it’s getting better. The figure-8s REALLY help with this; I also ride him in a figure-8 noseband.

  3. I’m not sure if it’s my advanced age, or the fact that my horses all want me to die, but I have pretty much terrified to ride anyplace that has no fence. Hats off to you! And that looks like a gorgeous place to hack out in a field!

    1. I’ve spent most of my life riding out of the arena (I didn’t like where the one at home was, college was too crowded, last few places haven’t had one), so I feel much less cramped out there! These are great, spacious fields with good footing and are totally fenced along the perimeter. 😛

  4. I love hillwork and I just don’t know what people do without hills! We’ve always had at least one hill on the properties we’ve been at. Lovely field though! Like the water

  5. What a great conditioning routine. We don’t really have hills either. I’ve been dying to get back out into the field though. The last time I tried the ground was to hard.

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