Whinny’s Guide to Assessing and Improving Your Horse’s Fitness

Whinny’s Guide to Assessing and Improving Your Horse’s Fitness

Whinny’s Wisdoms

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

Hey there, curious humans! It’s Whinny, your friendly neighborhood field mouse, coming to you from the rapidly expanding Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic. Since it’s the beginning of the year, and you humans like to think about fitness this time of year, let’s dive into the world of equine fitness. I’ve seen these majestic creatures up close and personal, and trust me, keeping them in tip-top shape is no small feat. But fear not, for I’ve got the inside scoop on how to evaluate your horse’s fitness and craft a plan to boost those stamina levels. So, saddle up, and let’s dive in!

Understanding the Basics of Equine Fitness

Before we jump into the nitty-gritty of designing a fitness plan, let’s paw our way through the fundamentals. Just like us field mice, horses need to stay fit for optimal health and performance. Whether your four-legged friend is saucy or sweet, assessing their fitness level is the first step.

  1. Body Condition Scamper

Take a good look at your horse’s body. Run your tiny paws along their sides, feeling for any hidden bumps or curves. A well-fed horse should have a sleek and shiny coat, with ribs that are easily felt but not visible. If your fingers encounter too much padding or the ribs are too prominent, it might be time for a diet tweak. All of the amazing technicians and doctors here would love to talk horse nutrition with you anytime. If you want to go the extra step and actually assess your horse’s body condition score, here’s a video on my YouTube Channel that will walk you through it.

  1. Heartbeat Hurdle

Time to check that rhythmic thumping beneath the fur. Place a stethoscope against your horse’s chest – metaphorically speaking, of course – and listen for the steady beat of their heart. A resting heart rate between 28 and 44 beats per minute is considered normal. Here’s a great video about how to take your horse’s vital signs. Take your horse for what you consider a normal ride. The heartbeat should drop back to that resting level within about 15 minutes. For most horses, and most exercise regimens, it should be more like 10 minutes.

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  1. Lung Capacity Lark

Now, let’s talk about breathing. Resting respiratory rates should be between 12 and 20 breaths per minute. After a round of exercise, observe the rise and fall of your horse’s flanks. Normal breathing should be rhythmic and not excessively labored. The respiratory rate should be back to normal in about 20 minutes. Really hot, and/or humid weather can cause this to take longer, but don’t use that as an excuse for why your out-of-shape pasture potato is still blowing after 25 minutes!

  1. Flexibility Frolic

Time for a bit of yoga, equine-style! Watch how your horse moves. A good range of motion in their joints is crucial for overall fitness. Is it the same at the beginning and end of your rides? Does your horse come out sore the day after a workout? If so, it’s time to have a talk with the doctors. This can be a sign of a subtle lameness, or simply that you need to up your fitness game.

Designing a Tailor-Made Fitness Plan

Now that we’ve sized up your horse, it’s time to concoct a fitness plan that’ll have them prancing like an Olympic dressage horse in no time. (You may want to consider a fitness plan for yourself as well, but I’ll leave that part up to you!).

  1. Start Slow, Finish Strong

Just as I take cautious steps when venturing into unknown territory, your horse needs a gradual introduction to a new fitness routine. Begin with light exercises like walking and gradually incorporate more challenging activities over time. Lots and lots of walking is a great way to get a good base of fitness. It is also really difficult for a horse to injure themselves walking. Not impossible though, since they are horses, after all.

Adding 3-5 minutes of a gait every two weeks until you hit your goal is generally safe. Talk with our doctors for help determining what those goals should be if you aren’t sure. If you want to trail ride 7 miles, they will be different than if you want to do a Second Level dressage test. Check those vital signs after each ride to be sure heart and respiratory rates are coming down appropriately. If they aren’t, you are likely adding work too quickly.

  1. Mix it Up Maneuver

 Variety is the spice of life, and it’s no different for our horses. Keep their workouts interesting by alternating between riding, lunging, and ground exercises. If possible, alternate footing. Ride on grass, sand, hard surfaces, and any other options you can find. This not only targets different muscle groups but also keeps them mentally engaged. Cross training is also great for any horse! Got a jumper? Do some dressage. Got a dressage horse? Jump something! Work in an arena a lot? Go for a trail ride (watch out for field mice!) The more variety, the better.

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  1. Healthy Hoof Habits

A sound foundation is crucial, and I’m not just talking about my cozy nest. I know I say this a lot, and Tony said it all the time: regular hoof care is essential for your horse’s well-being. Ensure they have proper shoeing and trimmings to prevent discomfort and potential lameness. No Hoof, No Horse is a very real thing!

  1. Nutritional Nibble

Just like nibbling on a juicy piece of cheese, your horse’s diet plays a vital role in their fitness journey. Consult with any of our technicians or doctors at Springhill Equine to help you come up with a diet that gives your horse all the right stuff without tipping the scales. It can be particularly tricky to feed horses who are in a changing exercise program. They will have different requirements for many key ingredients like protein and trace minerals.

  1. Consistent Canter

Consistency is key in any fitness endeavor. Establish a routine that you and your horse can stick to. Whether it’s morning or evening, maintaining a regular schedule fosters discipline and helps monitor progress. Just like for you humans, every little bit counts. Adding some groundwork for 15 minutes when you are short on time counts!!

So there you have it, dear humans – a field mouse’s take on evaluating and enhancing your horse’s fitness. Remember, each horse is unique, so don’t be afraid to adjust your plan based on their individual needs. Keep the lines of communication open with my doctors, and soon you’ll be riding high on the waves of equine fitness success!

Happy trails and squeaks,


P.S. Make sure you take a minute to watch those videos I linked above! And while you’re over on my YouTube Channel, subscribe! My humans put out a ton of great video content, and it’s all free for the taking. I don’t know how they find the time to do it. It’s all I can do to keep up with my blog writing, supervising the going’s on here at the Clinic, and so on. Speaking of our Clinic, did you know we’ve added a Small Animal Hospital to our building? Construction is wrapping up this week! Keep an eye on my Facebook page. I’ll make sure they post a video soon!

Whinny’s Wisdoms is the official blog of Whinny the Clinic Mouse at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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Fitness for Horses

Fitness for Horses

Tuesdays with Tony

Fitness. By far, not my favorite topic to discuss. My idea of fitness is moving from inside the clinic to outside, and maybe jumping up on the bench to sleep. This is acceptable for me since I’m a cat, rather than a horse who has a human imposing work expectations upon them. I would never bow to external pressures to do something like work. Those external pressures are important to understand if you’re asking your horse to do a job. The number one place injuries happen is at the point of fatigue. This week, let’s talk about how you know you’ve got your horse fit enough.

Start Slow!

This is a statement I can really get behind. If the fitness journey is just beginning, or if you are trying to assess where your horse is on the fitness scale, going slow is never the wrong answer. Slow can mean two things. 

First: literally slow. Add walking to your horse’s schedule. Thirty minutes of walking builds fitness without pounding on tendons, ligaments, and joints. Now, when I say walking, I mean walking like me heading to the food bowl, not me heading to my spot under the bush in front of the clinic to take a siesta. There’s a difference between ambling and walking with a purpose.

Second: add things slowly. There’s two ways to add stuff. You can add time, and you can add skills. Always add one at a time. For example, add a 3-minute trot set for two weeks before saying, “Ya know, starting piaffe this week sounds great.” 

How Do I Know It’s Going Okay?

As the saying goes with you humans, that’s the $64,000 question. Though with adjustment to current pricing from 1955 levels, it’s a $686,576.72 question. That is an appropriate use of Google, by the way. Way better than asking Google what you should do with your colicky horse. 

The answer is, there are several ways to know your fitness program is progressing. First, how does your horse feel when doing their job, and at the end of doing their job? For example, you had noticed Spot was really tired at the end of a weekend showing Dressage. That last day took all you had to get impulsion, relaxation, and all those other things Dressage judges go on about. With your new fitness program, how is that last day feeling? This is the ultimate test of a fitness program. Does your horse feel good doing what you wanted? If not, back to the drawing board to increase the work. 

A great way to determine fitness level is heart rate. This can be done with all sorts of fancy gadgets these days. However, it can also be done with a cheap stethoscope! Ask your horse to do the job you’re asking. If you’re a show jumper, ask them to jump an entire course, maybe even add in a fake jump-off. Don’t skimp. Do the level you are looking for! Immediately upon finishing, take a heart rate. Now wait 2 minutes and take the heart rate again. The heart rate should have dropped below 100 beats per minute (bpm), and should be below 60 bpm after 10 minutes. 

Temperature. This isn’t a straight-up indicator of fitness, but it can be important. There are lots of factors that go into a horse’s temperature. Fitness and the ability of the cardiovascular system to get rid of heat are a component. However, the temperature outside is also a really important factor. The important thing about temperature is to monitor it. It should go down, but it may take a while. For most horses, it should be back down to the 101F range by an hour after intense work. Racehorses may take longer, and I thought this was an interesting horse thing, their temperature may go up after they are done racing. Weird.

If you want to get super scientific, measuring blood lactate is a really, really great way to measure fitness. Lactate meters are very easy to use, and only a small amount of blood is needed to test. It’s kind of like my glucose measuring device for my diabetes. If you want to get super into fitness, talk with my Docs about lactate monitoring. 

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Sport-Specific Tasks

Every discipline with horses asks different fitness questions. It’s incredibly important to modify your horse’s fitness routine to answer those questions. If your reiner needs to collect, and extend, and hold their shape in a stop, then you’ve got to work on that. Dressage horses, especially at the upper levels, need so much core strength. You better work on that! Not to mention all that collection puts stresses on tendons and ligaments. They need to be ready for that stress, and not just thrown into it. This is where great trainers, riders, and veterinarians can help you. Having them help you identify sport-specific tasks and exercises to build strength and endurance is vital!

Don’t Forget the Human

Remember, you have to be fit to do the job, too! An unbalanced rider asking a horse to stop, turn, collect, jump, or any of the other things you ask puts that horse at a huge injury risk. Horses try hard to be good to you humans. Trying to lay down a slide while you’re hanging off the side puts extra stress on all the parts involved. Do your part. Work on your fitness, too! 

Fitness is hard. It’s designed that way. Need help evaluating your horse’s fitness? Want help designing a fitness plan? Call my Docs. From heart rate monitoring to lactate levels to soundness and competition readiness, they’re here to help you and your horse.

Until next week,


P.S. My docs have some great fitness exercises over on our YouTube Channel. If you aren’t subscribed to that, you are missing out on some excellent video content! New videos come out all the time, so make sure you’re plugged in.

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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