Fittening Your Eventer

Fittening Your Eventer

If you want to enter equestrian events with your horse then there is just one question you need to ask – are they ready?

Eventing HorseThe key to a fit and healthy eventer is a combination of rigorous training, healthy diet and regular visits to the vet. If you are planning on fittening your eventer then you will certainly want to consider the following:

Develop a training plan

There are many different approaches taken by professionals in getting their eventer to peak fitness. Any training programme must be customised to the needs of the horse but one thing is universally accepted; the horse should be brought to work gradually.

The main steps you should follow in your plan – no matter how long its duration – are:

  • Walking & Trotting

Walking and trotting are key skills for any event horse. You should start walking your horse half an hour on the first outing before building to a full hour over time. Remember to schedule a weekly rest day to prevent your horse from becoming overtired or sustaining an injury and to maintain good horse health.

  • Cantering

Once the walking and trotting period is completed, it is time to step things up a notch. You should progress onto canter work when your horse is ready to help develop suppleness. You can then introduce flatwork and begin training on small jumps; there is no need to push your horse at this stage so keep the jumps at a comfortable height depending on the horses ability.

  • Jumping

Progressively increase the size of jumps to get your horse more comfortable. Once your horse has achieved a relatively good standard in this area you are ready for small scale competitions which are vital for building confidence and strengthening ability.

True fitness is not reached until the horse has put its training into practice and this experience combined with a gradually intensifying training programme will mean your horse will be fit and ready for the main event.

Scales of training

You may have heard this term before in regards to dressage but the Scales of Training are equally effective when applied to any discipline. Commonly depicted as a pyramid, the basic concept is based on six stages of progression designed to hone your horse into a well-rounded eventer ensuring physical development through progressive conditioning.

Each level must be fully mastered before advancing to the next as each skill builds on the previous one:

1.    Relaxation
The relaxation level is an important primary level that must be completed in order to progress. This level refers to both the physical and mental relaxation of a horse, so that it can work with looseness.

2.    Rhythm
Rhythm refers to the regularity of each step a horse takes. Rhythm needs to be maintained for the duration of a routine including transitions, turns and straight lines. It is important not to confuse rhythm with tempo which refers to the speed of a rhythm which can be correct, too fast or too slow, whereas a rhythm can only be regular or irregular.

3.    Contact
Contact is the connection between the riders hand and the horse’s mouth. If the contact is correct it allows the horse and rider to find their balance and rhythm in each of the horse’s steps.

4.    Impulsion
Impulsion describes the energy created in a horse’s hind legs that is transferred into the forward movement. Impulsion is achieved through training and is also known as ‘contained energy’.

5.    Straightness
Straightness in needed so that a horse’s weight is distributed evenly when riding. To achieve straightness a horse’s forehand is in line with its hindquarters, this can be either a straight line or curve.

6.    Collection
Collection is needed to lighten the forehand and raise the neck of a horse. Collection training aims to increase the carrying capacity of the hindquarters of a horse.

However, it is not a strict framework and riders will often take a step down should the horse require further training on a lower level. In fact, refreshing the basic stages is crucial even for a horse working at an advanced level.

Design a feeding plan

Just as overall training plans are individual to the horse, so too are feeding plans. While some horses will need a high fibre, low energy diet others may need a high energy diet. The case is always unique to the horse and you should consult with vets or equine nutritionist to make sure you have the right horse feed to fulfil your horse’s needs.

During training, your horse will continually build and repair muscle tissue and this means they must get the right nutrients. Setting a strict diet plan can ensure this happens but you can also get supplements to help.

Regular check-ups by a veterinarian can also ensure your horse is a healthy weight and is getting everything they need from the food. With the correct fittening plan your horse will perform to its full potential!

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