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Training Your Horse To Peak At The Right Time

Featured Photo Credit: Callan Curtis

Submitted by member: Victoria

I was wondering if you might have suggestions on a conditioning and planning program for a jumper to peak at the right time?

Answer by Linda Allen

It’s a great topic you raise since planning and conditioning are all part of good horse management.  Well managed equine athletes always have an edge when it comes to top performance and long-term soundness.  When determining an optimum program for any given horse, you must take into account a lot of different factors.  If there is a specific competition that you are aiming at, it’s necessary to think of just how much jumping will be involved.  It can vary between getting ready for one particular class at one of your normal shows, all the way up to preparing for a multi-day, Championship-format event composed of several rounds of jumping, such as at the NAJYRC.  For really big events, there might even be selection trials to consider as well.  Some other important considerations are your horse’s age and any potential soundness issues that you might have to work around.  Is your horse in normal competing shape now? Have you been competing on a fairly regular basis?  Does he tend to keep an adequate fitness level when you have a break between shows?

I strongly believe that overall fitness is important for a jumper; greatly lessening the likelihood of soft tissue injuries. By keeping the muscles strong, the ligaments that connect them to bone aren’t left to take all the stress when muscle fatigue sets in. Body soreness after a big class is lessened as well. Many older horses deal with some arthritic joints, and keeping them comfortable means regular and frequent exercise.  Too many hours in a stall shortens the working lives of too many horses, and joint injections and anti-inflammatories are a quick fix, but the only long term benefits of them are to the veterinarian’s bank account.

In designing your program, utilize a gradual increase in duration and intensity of work.  Make sure your work varies to the greatest extent possible.  If you have availability of hills to work on, wonderful!  Otherwise use frequent transitions between and within all three gaits.  Vary the intensity of collected work, but avoid long periods of collection; it’s always better to ask for intense work in multiple, very brief intervals—interspersed with changes of gait, long-and-low work, and walking.  Tired horses quickly learn annoying resistances.  The amount of jumping incorporated into your program will vary depending on your horse’s level of experience, ride-ability, and how often you compete.  An experienced horse that you know well, and that competes at least a few classes each month, will not need much jumping at home.  For a less experienced horse that still needs some training, or that hasn’t shown much recently, you will want to add more schooling over fences to his program.

Regardless, all horses need to do some level of jumping along with good flatwork to be sure ALL musculature is working.  Try to design exercises that will stretch and strengthen the back and hind quarters, without having to set the fences too high.  I find that various forms of gymnastics give you far more ‘bang for your buck’ in this regard. Lower, wider oxers, mixed with medium sized verticals, and set with a variety of shorter, longer, and medium distances between them, will keep your horse focused on his technique while he gains strength and flexibility.

The final consideration when designing a program to get you where you want to go is almost as important as physical fitness. That factor is your horse’s attitude. A happy, focused horse that is as eager to go in and do well as you are goes a long way toward achieving a great result. If you listen carefully, each horse will tell you how they feel and help you learn what keeps them happy and sharp.

For more exercises, you might be interested to read my other blog post: “Tips to Keep Your Horse From Getting Bored at Home

Olivia Loiacono did a blog post you might also find helpful: “Exercises to Strengthen a Horse’s Hindquarters

Video Recommendations:

improving your horses fitness

Horse Fitness – Developing a Base of Endurance
Denny Emerson
As a Tevis Cup buckle winner in endurance, Denny Emerson is uniquely qualified to set forth a fitness plan for your horse. Additionally, decades of experience as an eventing World Champion give him just a little credibility on the subject as well! The key is to begin with LONG SLOW MILES (LSM) to develop a base of physical fitness that will ensure a sound, solid and sustainable athletic progression for you and your horse.
Running Time:  10 minutes and 48 seconds

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improve your horses front end over jumps

The Winkler Gymnastic
Bernie Traurig
In this video, Bernie shares with you one of his favorite gymnastics designed to improve your horse’s agility, front end (technique), rhythm & balance.
Running Time:  10 minutes and 32 seconds

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Linda Allen

Linda Allen (Hunter, Jumper, Course Design) - is an accomplished Olympic Course Designer, Clinician, Judge, Equestrian Facility Design Consultant and Author. For more than 45 years, Linda has been a fixture in the Equestrian Industry. Linda is an FEI Official International Course Designer, FEI Certified Steward and Course Director for Show Jumping and US Equestrian Federation "R" Course Designer for Jumpers and Hunters. She is a USEF Registered Judge for Jumpers, Hunters and Hunt Seat Equitation, Foreign Judge for FEI Events in Canada, Mexico, Sweden, Italy and Saudi Arabia and has been Member and President of the Ground Jury for multiple World Cup Finals and World Equestrian Games events. Visit her website:

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