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Get Your Horse Fit with Coral Keen

Having got many event horses fit to compete over the years, we thought we would share some of International Event Rider, Coral Keen’s top tips with you all…

  • Do plenty of walk work. 

This is incredibly important when you start getting horses fit but also something to do at all times when working horses. I think it is a really good way of keeping their legs strong without punishing them too much. If you haven’t got a walker, make sure you incorporate enough walking within your ridden work. 

  • Trot work on an incline

If you need to trot on the roads, I would always try and do this uphill as it is less punishing on the horses legs and joints. An incline is also always advantageous in terms of fitness work.

  • Make sure you work your horses equally

During all work including fitness work it is important to work the horses evenly. For example; say I was doing roadwork and had three hills on the route I had planned, I would do one on each diagonal and then for the final hill I would change diagonal half-way through. With canter work I would make sure I train the horses evenly on each leg, so that they build up muscle tone correctly. Just like us they are right or left handed so you always need to be aware to make them as even as possible. 

  • Schoolwork

I personally don’t like to go in the school with the horses until they are hacking and trotting. As I feel it is physically quite demanding for them when they aren’t fit and can lead to issues if they are not strong.  Once they are fit enough, I will then use polework before I start jumping. I wouldn’t really want to be jumping mine, much before they start their canter work. They need to be able to be working quite well in the school for almost a full session and have had a little canter (although not full on galloping necessarily) before they start jumping over reasonable fences. After this, it is then a case of building it up slowly. 

  • Knowing your horse

We all have different facilities and different places we can use for fitness work. So, it is about getting to know your own horse and your routes. This then gives you an idea of how your horse is feeling at certain points and whether they are on track. This is also dependent on the horse, their breed and whether they have been fit and strong before (which will speed up the fittening process) compared to a young horse. Always allow yourself plenty of time and work back from when your first event is, I would usually allow two and half month’s minimum. 

  • Natural Gallop

If your horse hasn’t found its own natural gallop, it can be really useful to take it upsides another horse, that has better ground covering pace. Sometimes you can hold the pacemaker horse back and allow the other horse to just get its nose infront to help build its confidence. I had a horse that didn’t really take the bridle and by doing this sort of work, it made him believe that he could do that bit more, take the lead and be more forward. 

  • Hills, hills, hills

If you can find good hills within your own hacking or if it means boxing up to them it makes such a big difference. It will save the amount of hours you have to be in the saddle, as a lot less time is needed with this type of work, than if you were just on flat terrain. It is also less punishing for horses and gets them stronger behind and over their backs. When you are walking or trotting up a hill, make sure you pick a spot on the horizon and ride really straight. You should then have a better feel as to whether the horse wants to push one way or the other more and that just comes from being slightly weaker of one hind leg. By focusing ahead, it makes you ride straighter and in turn work your horse more evenly from behind. 

  • A really steep hill

If you have a really steep hill, you are much better to walk up it. I always think of this in human terms as doing weights in the gym. It is really good for building the horses muscles over their backs. Especially if you get them to stretch down, nose out and marching up the hill in walk and again remembering the straightness. With steep hills you need to be wary if you trot as it is easy for the hind leg to go out behind them, because of the pace and this then defeats the object of trying to teach the horse to engage.

  • Cantering downhill

If you can find a safe grassy hill area, eg on the downs, I think it is really good from time to time to train the horses to canter down the hills as well as up them. This then teaches them to be in balance keeping the shoulder and head up, so they are not running down the hill on their forehands. Then when you are out competing and there is different terrain, for example a skinny at the bottom of the hill that you have to be accurate for and the horse needs to be in balance, they are prepared. I teach and do this work from when the horses are 5YOs right the way through to advance level. Is something that usually once they have learnt, they can then come downhill light as a feather in the rein and they know how to balance themselves. But if you don’t take the time to teach them, they don’t understand. I don’t do a huge amount of this type of work, especially with the young ones, but I do a little bits  so that they learn. 

  • Use a stopwatch

When you are galloping your horse, work out how many metres per minute you need to be riding at and the distance, so that when you are building towards that event, you can make sure you can work at that pace for the stamina and period of time you need. Wearing a stopwatch will help you with that and also gets you in the mindsight of using a stopwatch pre competition. It is a really useful one for young riders that perhaps haven’t worn a stopwatch before to get some practice in and get use to the benefits of wearing one. 

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