Fitness schedule after horse has had time off.

My mare was confirmed in foal in the fall. she has been totally off work the last 4 months and only lightly worked prior to this. I found out that she lost her foal sometime between her preg check and now (Im guessing earlier as It would have been extremely difficult to hide the later it had happened.) Anyways I am officially back riding and wanting to get her in shape. I know it’s important not to push to hard to quickly. My plan is 20 minutes of walk with (a few minutes of trot and maybe one or two laps of canter for the first week and to slowly build up. My dilemma is this; she hates walking and wants to work faster. She keeps breaking to trot and then pins her ears when I try to bring her back in pace. She was so annoyed at me by the time I was ready for the canter work that she was threatening to buck, falling out severely and getting sticky and acting like she wanted to go up. (I worked her too hard 3 days ago because I was excited to be back in the saddle, did lots of walk breaks amd probably a total of 25-30 minutes of trot (with a little bit of canter) she did great that day and was happy. it was pointed out to me that it was too much too quickly and I needed to scale back. Anyone have thoughts or ideas of what to do with a mare who doesn’t like to walk and then gets into a mare fit after because she wants to go faster?

Ride the horse you have that day. Me and my mare have gone round about the same walking vs trotting or surprise I must canter right now!! Is there anything wrong with her that letting her get the wiggles out early so you can get down to business is going to be harmful? Or if you would rather lunge her for a few to get rid of that energy? If you force the issue neither of you is going to enjoy it.

I’d slow down if it were me. If she’s sensible, do most of your walking outside, even in the pasture if you have to. And I’d be walking at lot more with a lot less trot and canter. My suggestion is to walk as much as you can and more than you think you need.

My horse looses strength very quickly so here’s my suggestion from that perspective. Plan at least 4 weeks back to full fitness.

  • Week 1: Walk 30+ minutes with 5-10 minutes of trotting broken up in small increments; end of the week start adding in lateral work and walking on the bit at the walk for 2-3 minutes at a time but stay in large figures for the trotting
  • Week 2: Walk 30-50 minutes, 10-20 minutes of trotting in increments and on large figures; end of the week try adding 2-3 laps of canter
  • Week 3: Walk as much as you can; 20 minutes of trotting in longer increments on large figures; 5-7 minutes of canter
  • Week 4: Walk, walk, and more walk; 20+ minutes of trotting starting medium-sized circles; 10+ minutes of canter with large circles
  • Week 5: Start testing the work/schooling where you left off 4 months ago - if the SI or transitions feel really weak, know that you'll need a few more weeks to get full "dressage fitness" back compared with cardio fitness
Since you are in a bit of a forced "rehab" type situation, use this to really get the walk relaxed. There is nothing better for the horse to start a base of fitness.

If you are walking on a long rein and the horse is threatening to go up, getting sticky, or really throwing herself around, I think you need to look at physical issues as well as some ground work. You can also do a lot of hand walking. I’d avoid lunging unless it’s a safety issue.

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Yes, you need to go slow even if she doesn’t want to. There are a lot of pieces that need to be re-conditioned, and they come back at different rates. Cardio will come back before strength - and that lends itself to soft tissue injuries, among others.

Rule of thumb is that it takes 8 weeks to go from pasture to ready to work. 2 weeks with lots of walking, a few minutes of trotting in short intervals. Gradually increase the trotting - add 5 minutes a week or so. Add canter around week 4. Then increase that a few minutes a week. By week 8 you should be able to do 45 minutes of walk/trot/canter in a training level place (with appropriate breaks) - then you can go from there adding back the higher level work.

Bringing my horse back from 7 months off due to bone chip surgery (and I did not start from ground zero because she was up to 20 minutes of treadmill walking before I got on her): one month of walk U/S, starting with ten minutes for a week and adding about 5 minutes per week; one month of walk/trot (starting with 20 minutes walk, 5 minutes trot, and adding 5 minutes per week); one month of walk/trot/canter (starting with 20 minutes walk/20 minutes trot and adding 2 -1/2 minutes of canter each week). After that, I returned to dressage training, adding some lateral work, transitions, etc. for a month, then a single flying change and some forward and back, etc. Now we have been training for six months and are back to doing all the grand prix work, but she still needs strength and endurance so we are working on that.

The horse needs to relearn to carry your weight, so needs a month at walk to do that, then gradually to strengthen their back to your weight in trot and canter. over two more months
If you go too fast, you risk a lower limb injury from overuse.

I’d make her walk no matter what, just to establish submission. More walk halt transitions? Serpentimes, spiral in and out? Linked 10 meter circles down the centerline? Poles? Rein back, walk, halt? Walk a square with quarter TOH?
Make it more interesting for her and challenge her mind, too.

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I had to rehab my very big, forward, spooky mare several times (she’s now 24 and retired) and kind of got resigned to it. I’m now legging my young mare up from 3 months off (no injury, just Life Events on my end). Thankfully she’s much quieter-brained, but does get bored. I’m also (re)starting a young gelding who has had a year off after the track. He carries anxiety but is extremely polite, so we’re walking mostly so he can learn what I want at a pace that allows him to process and take a breath, and get him stronger and supple in a low-impact, relaxed manner.

Do as much walking as you can for the first month. With no actual injury, I would plan to walk for the first week or two, then add in short trots. Think of it like interval training and you can make a plan based on that. (I find it easier to stick with a specific plan rather than weeks 1-2 walk, week 3 trot, week 4 canter.) If you cheat and do a little trotting that’s not in the plan, keep it short, stretchy, and active. Focus on relaxation and lifting her back.

Think of it like Pilates–she’s probably weak and tight in places from the time off. You can improve that with correct slow work, but if you overdo it, she’ll just get tighter and sore if you haven’t given the regimen a chance to strengthen her. Observe her after each workout–does she seem happier and more relaxed? If so, you’re probably on the right track. If she is crankier or tired, you’ve probably overdone it.

For making walk work interesting, I love hills and ground poles. Do light lateral work–just a few steps at a time. Halt. Back up a couple steps (not if she’s threatening to go up!). Do a little turn on forehand or hindquarters. Give her a loose rein and let her ramble around at the walk (as long as she’s not getting upside-down). My rule with walking rehab/ conditioning is they must lift their backs! Does she already know how to bend her ribcage around your leg and lift her back? If not, this is a great time to teach those things! It will make the walk work a LOT more productive and keep her mentally and physically engaged. It’s core work for equines. :slight_smile:

Since you’re not rehabbing from an injury, I’d do a lot of serpentines and flexing in your walk work. Work on stretches and bending. Flex head to one side, encourage her to stretch back forward, bend to the other side, stretch back center and forward. Ask for deep and round for 2 steps encouraging the back to lift up, then stretch back forward again. Do a couple steps in leg yield, a couple steps shoulder in. Mix it all up to keep both of you from getting bored. Shorten and lengthen the walk. There is a lot you can do to entertain the two of you. All this should also help the trot now mindset.

These threads always intrigue me. For me, a lot of it depends on the horse. Their natural carriage and how self motivated they are to exercise when turned out. And mentally, some will pick up just about where they left off 4 months ago, others kinda go back to default.

If this were my horse I’d be inclined to do a bit of work in long lines to get the brain and body back.

I am in a similar place working at conditioning after a long winter off. When we walk I make sure we are walking like we are going somewhere…no strolling. Depending on the training level of your horse don’t just walk straight lines, keep her thinking, walk turn, walk flex, walk halt, walk do a turn on the forehand, walk stretch, etc Work on transitions, walk/halt, transitions within the walk, let her stretch her nose out and really walk-how fast can she go at a walk- then pick up reins and transition to working walk or even a bit less but still with energy and contact.
Leg yield, shoulder fore and more if she knows it. Introduce some ground poles, work on circles, 20 meter, 19, 18, as long as she keeps the correct bend.
You can do a lot at a walk. Do serpentines at a trot, as small as you can if she wants to rush then work out until you have correct bend, if she rushes make the circle smaller but keep the trot, then as she relaxes make the circle bigger to correct bend. She will learn to stay relaxed because it is much easier.
Good luck.