Just because you don’t ride your horse. It doesn’t mean that you will let it become overweight and unhealthy. Let’s explore, how to exercise a horse without riding it. Plus how to keep them healthy and safe in the process.
You can still exercise a horse without riding it and keep your equine pal in good shape, fit, and healthy. And you will achieve all of that even if you have a non-ridden horse.
To exercise a horse without riding, you’ll need to focus your horse workout routines on the basic areas that keep them fit, agile, and healthy.
These routines include hand-walking, lunging, long reining, stretching, long lining, free schooling, and pole work from the ground among others.
Keep in mind that safety should be a top priority when exercising a non-ridden horse. Just as you can get an injury during a strenuous session at the gym.
Your horse can also get a serious injury if you don’t take precautions and train the horse in a safe and hazard-free environment such as an arena or an enclosed area of the field.
If your horse has a broken back injury or cannot be ridden for some other reason. That doesn’t mean that the horse shouldn’t get their fair share of exercise without riding.
One way to get your horse on the right track, so to speak, is to start them on a hand walking routine.
Hand walking is ideal for horses with limited mobility or those who have some serious injury. And you need to find the right place to do it. Avoid paved roads or those with a lot of traffic.
Find an empty track or arena and let the horse walk by your side at an easy pace. You still need to hold their reins in case something spooks the horse and they decide to bolt.
Once the horse is comfortable with this pace of walking, encourage them to go on a gentle trot. Depending on the horse’s health and physical condition. You’d want to ease them into the exercise routine slowly and steadily. So keep the first few sessions short and light.
A half-hour session of easy walking is a good start. Once the horse has built up stamina, you can allow them to trot. But not long enough to break a sweat. Your goal is to exercise the different muscle groups in the horse’s body without putting it through some strenuous effort.
Stretching is another way to exercise your horse without riding them or putting them at risk. This applies to horses who are recovering from surgeries or have just come out of a serious illness. In the equine world, stretching means giving the horse a massage.
This is not a passive exercise just like the massage you get at the local spa. For a horse, an equine massage is a stimulating form of anaerobic exercise.
It helps release the stored energy in the horse’s muscles and keep the muscle structure in good shape even when the horse is not doing any riding, trotting, or galloping. And the good thing about stretching and massage is that you have full control over the intensity and duration of each session.
If the horse has been in a sedentary state for a long time, then you can start with general stretching techniques that cover up the whole of its body and core muscle groups.
As you examine the horse’s body and work the muscles, you can feel which muscles are not toned and where blood circulation needs more work. Gently massage the sore and stiff spots until the horse regains their agility.
By ponying, we mean you take the horse out for a walk or a trot without riding them. Instead, you’d be riding another horse while the convalescing horse tags along. Leading the horse that way encourages them to exercise without burdening them with the weight of a rider.
It’s also a good way to exercise a horse who’s been in the stables for too long and hasn’t seen much activity. This long dormancy can have a negative impact on the horse’s agility, balance, and posture. But having them along for the ride, allows you to manage their gait and ease them back into an active lifestyle effortlessly.
Ponying is also a good way to exercise more than one horse at the same time. If you don’t have time to dedicate a separate session for each horse, you can hold their reins and take them all out for a ride at the same time. Not only does this increase the bonding between the horses but saves you time and cuts down on your workload as well.
One thing to keep in mind when ponying more than one horse is to adjust your training routines to suit the weakest and most vulnerable of the horses. You can also use ponying to take a young or unbroken horse to new places and new routines.
Lunging is another form of training that involves exercising a non-ridden horse while you remain on top of a horse. It’s similar to ponying as you keep the exercising horse tethered to a long rope clipped to its halter.
But that’s as far as the similarities between ponying and lunging go. While in ponying you can allow more than one horse to tag along, lunging is about exercising one horse at a time.
Lunging is also considered a more advanced form of training than ponying. Instead of the casual trot, your horse enjoys in ponying, you can let them work out a sweat and get into some serious exercise routines with lunging.
The idea is to stand still on horseback while the exercising horse keeps moving around you in circles. And using both your body language and the long rope, you can guide your horse’s movements and push them to speed up or slow down at will.
If you feel the horse is getting tired or burning out energy too quickly, ease them into a trot and let them enjoy the light activity for a while longer.
Using a Round Pen
A round pen to a horse is like a fitness gym for a health-conscious person. In a round pen, you can exercise your horse and expose them to different activities that suit their health condition and physical fitness. It’s not just lunging that you can introduce your horse to, but all types of groundwork as well.
And in all of those exercises you still have good control over where the exercise is going, how hard or light you want it to be, and keep the horse under control even without rein or a halter.
Round pens were designed to allow you to get up close to the horse and strengthen your bond without having to ride them. At the same time, they give the horse more room to maneuver and move around without being stressed within the confines of small spaces. You can also allow the horse the liberty to stretch its own legs and move around at will without much interference.
If you’re familiar with the concept High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) you can apply it to your horse with few modifications. The concept revolves around going through short periods of high-intensity exercises followed by short intervals of rest. And it has the same benefits as long intense routines without the associated injury risk.
You can introduce your horse to interval training when they have successfully finished the above types of training. It’s a more advanced exercising technique that can be a little too demanding on the horse’s body.
As you alternate periods of canter with long intervals of brisk walking you allow the horse to experience bursts of intense activity.
A good example of interval training involves 4 minutes of canter followed by 3 periods of walking. The periods of rest that follow bring the horse back to a normal physical state rather quickly and reduce the risk of physical injuries.
As the horse gets used to the alternating states of strenuous activity and rest, you can prolong the stretches of activity and shorten the rest intervals.
Another way to bring the non-ridden horse’s fitness levels up quickly and snap them out of their lethargic state is using pole work. As you can imagine, the horse would have to be in good physical condition to start pole work. It involves placing poles and bars at different heights and having the horse jump over them.
Since the horse is still not in top form yet, you’d want to keep the bars low and the jumps easy and gentle. That way the horse won’t feel the strain of the jump. Of course, you will be guiding the horse at every stage of the pole work and keep the long rope in your hand at all times.
Even a convalescent horse still needs to have a decent amount of exercise. You can give your horse a good workout without having to ride them. This groundwork exercise can be practiced in an arena, on a trail, or in an enclosed pen. Gentle exercising is a good way to start to avoid injuries.
By ensuring that your non-ridden horse gets enough exercise, you can speed up their recovery and bring them to full health.
Whether you start by hand-walking them or choose ponying as a faster way to improve the horse’s muscle structure, a round pen and interval training are both essential for the health, wellbeing, and fitness of the horse.