Horseback riding is considered one of the best workouts you and your horse can get — it takes a great deal of physical and mental stamina. If you or your horse can’t ride for a while, it can leave you wondering. How you can keep your horse happy and healthy despite being out of action. Read on to find out how to exercise a horse without riding!
The good news is that there are plenty of ways to exercise a horse without riding. Non-riding exercises include stretching, lunging, walking, and basic groundwork exercises. Some horse exercises are more strenuous, whereas some are a little easier. There are lots of things you can do to keep active with your horse, even if that means doing simple, gentler exercises.
Of course, with all of the exercises we’ll be looking at in this post, it’s always best to proceed with caution. If you or your horse has been injured or suffer from any health conditions, always speak to your vet or physician before trying any of the exercises below. Staying safe is the number one priority when exercising your horse.
Let’s take a look at some common ways to exercise a horse without riding.
Lunging is basically getting your horse to move around you in a circle. It sounds simple enough, but it can be quite an intense workout for a horse, so always be careful not to overdo it. It is typically recommended to lunge a horse once or twice a week and for approximately 15-20 minutes. Check with your vet to be sure.
Lunging also requires some equipment, including:
- A lunge line
- A lunge whip (this is only a support aid to help keep the horse on track — you’re not actually going to be whipping your horse, don’t worry!)
- A bridle or cavesson
- Gloves for you to avoid rope burn
You can lunge a horse in a round pen or an open space, it’s up to you. Warming up with a walk before going into a more intensive workout is crucial. Lunging is beneficial for getting your horse to burn off excess energy from not being ridden and improving their flexibility and balance. It also gives you a great view for checking their gait and spotting potential issues.
Stretching is a more therapeutic form of horse exercise. It focuses more on suppleness and preventing muscle injuries rather than giving the horse an intense workout. It may even be pretty enjoyable for a horse — it’s a little bit like horse massage! They might get some treats out of the deal depending on the stretch you are doing.
Examples of stretching exercises include:
This is an exercise where you get your horse to stretch his neck back towards the hip area. You can entice him to do this using treats like carrot pieces.
Using treats again, you guide the horse to place her head between the fetlocks.
This one may sound cruel, but when done correctly, it isn’t. A gentle tail pull has been found by scientists to be a great way to reduce back pain in horses.
Benefits of stretching also include better circulation, posture and can result in a much more relaxed horse with healthier muscles.
If you’re lucky enough to have the facilities available to you and a horse that enjoys swimming, this can be a great way to exercise a horse without riding. Swimming is sometimes used to help horses recuperate from injuries and as a form of therapy. Now, not every horse will take to water like a fish, but some horses love it.
Swimming is beneficial for horses because, like in humans, it utilizes all of the body’s muscles, giving them a good stretch and helping them to develop tone and flexibility. According to Equine Health Magazine, swimming has been proven to “increase the contractility of the heart”, which helps keep the heart healthy in horses.
Some owners even choose to swim with their horses or at least walk them in water so as to experience some water resistance. Even a gentle walk in water can contribute towards improved fitness in both horses and humans.
If you have access to a second horse, ponying can be great for exercising two horses at once. It means that you ride one horse with another horse tagging alongside. This can be pretty hard to learn and takes practice, however, because you have to manage two horses at once. Ponying can be a good way for horses unable to be ridden to get some exercise.
It may be a good idea to first practice ponying in a round pen before ponying a horse anywhere else. For beginners, try working with chilled-out, docile horse personalities to make it less intimidating for you. When you’ve mastered ponying, it can open up so many opportunities for keeping horses healthy.
The rider should have an appropriate saddle, gloves to avoid rope burn, a halter and a lead for the horse.
Probably the simplest exercise on the list and the most suitable for all types of horses and riders is hand-walking. This simply means attaching a lead and walking alongside your horse. It’s a light exercise that doesn’t ask too much of you or your horse but still gets both of you a nice workout.
This form of horse exercise can be a pretty calm and relaxing experience, enjoyable for both the rider and the horse. Though this is a simple exercise, the rider should always practice caution. If you have a horse that is easily spooked, you may want to keep hand walking to familiar areas without loud sounds or where sudden movements may occur.
Nancy S. Loving DVM of stablemanagement.com recommends walking at the side of the horse rather than in front, especially with horses prone to being spooked. This is safer if the horse suddenly bolts.
Turnout simply means giving your horse a space in which he can freely run and play. While some horses need more encouragement, most horses are pretty good at exercising themselves. Horses should be turned out often and never stabled for long periods of time unless absolutely necessary — this can be disastrous for their physical and mental health.
Turning out is great for letting horses do what is natural to them — running, roaming and rolling freely in the grass.
Other benefits include:
Standing in a stable all day is not good for the health of a horse’s hooves. A frustrated horse may kick a stable door repeatedly, causing damage and pain. Turning out allows the horse to keep their hooves healthy.
Mental stimulation and socialization
Turning out horses allows them to interact with other horses, which is important as horses are herd animals by nature. It avoids boredom and reduces stress.
Better respiratory health
Kentucky Equine Research Staff mention that horses kept in stables for long periods are exposed to ammonia from urine, mites, dust and mold, all detrimental factors to their respiratory health. This is another reason why turnout is so important.
How Else Can I Keep my Horse Happy Without Riding?
There are plenty of ways to keep your bond with your horse strong when one of you is out of action. Simple acts like grooming, a brushing session, spending quality time with your horse and telling him about your day can go a long way.
You can also go back to basics and try some easy groundwork exercises that don’t require too much effort. Check out our article on how horses show affection if that interests you!
- Being unable to ride your horse doesn’t mean all is lost. There are lots of ways to keep your horse (and yourself) fit and active until you’re ready to ride again.
- Common methods of exercising a horse without riding include stretching, lunging and hand walking.
- Lunging, though it sounds simple, can be quite an intense workout for a horse.
- Stretching is one of the most relaxing ways to exercise your horse.
- Basic groundwork exercises can be useful for keeping your horse active and sharp.
- Healthy treats like carrot sticks can be a helpful motivational aid when exercising your horse, particularly for stretching.
So, there we have it! A few of the most common ways to exercise a horse without riding. Some require a little more effort and input than others, and not all may be suitable for all situations, so again, be sure to check with a vet before trying anything new. This is especially important if your horse has an injury or other health issues.
We hope this article has been helpful in giving you some ideas of how to exercise a horse without riding. If you’re interested in reading more on the relationship between horses and exercise, our articles “What is the Fastest Horse Breed?” and “Is Horseback Riding a Sport?” may be good reads for you. We hope you enjoy exercising your horse and good luck!