Maintaining fitness in Winter with trot sets

Looking for advice to keep my eventer fit this winter! My barn doesn’t have a covered arena and with more rain than I’m used to in CA, I want to make sure to keep my horse in shape.
My best option is trot sets on the partially paved / partially dirt driveway, so I was wondering what would be best in terms of timing for trot work to keep my horse fit enough for Novice. TIA!

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Well not an eventer but here on the eventing forum I read the idea of doing three trot sets. Do one to the level of exertion that horse can recover breath in I think 3 minutes, then repeat. You have to experiment to see what length the trot needs to be. Obviously should lengthen as gets fitter. Like human interval training.

But horse has to leg up to the footing as well as the pace. So if he’s usually an arena horse do a lot of walking on the new footing first. I also would not trot on pavement.

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I can speak to legging up for foxhunting. Start short, maybe a couple of sets, and then keep extending. When I leg up the fox hunters we usually start at a mile and work up until it is 4-5 miles. It’s all done on natural trails.

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I use trot sets in my weekly schedule. My novice horse does 15 minutes of a straight trot. He is a baby horse and just gets him going forward and get out of the arena.

My prelim horse does 30 minutes straight of trot. But he is a warmblood a needs more fitness.

My advanced horse does 35 minutes of straight trot. He is a tb and needs not so much fitness as the warmblood.

But I work up to those numbers.

All of them get 15-20 minutes of walk before and after the trot set.

Walking is just as important as galloping and trotting. Adding even 10-30 minutes of walk a day to your ride will help your horses fitness tremendously without putting a ton of wear on them.

After a break, or gearing up for the season, I would start with just 5 minutes of trot. Proper walk of 10-15 before and after.

I do that for 3 weeks, then add 5 minutes. Do it again for another 3 weeks, then add 5 minutes.

For example:

Weeks 1-3 : walk work/ 5 minutes trot/ walk work

Weeks 4-6: walk work/ 10 minutes trot/ walk work

Weeks 7-9: walk work/ 15 minutes trot/ walk work

I do trot sets 1-2 days a week depending on the horse’s week schedule.

I also do mine on a hard dirt packed road, so I do have to stop and turn around when road ends mid trot set, that fine and I don’t add time for breaking to a walk to turn around.

Let me know if I need to clarify anything.


Can you ride or trailer out to a hilly trail? Long, slow distance at a marching walk (building up to some trots in the middle) is very good for getting a horse legged up for the lower levels.

Horses maintain fitness a lot better than humans, and for N it’s only a 5 minute canter so unless you’re starting with a horse who’s had no work for 2+ months you should be able to get him fit enough pretty quickly.


I do this every year since the snow and ice make any meaningful work in a ring difficult without an indoor.

I usually give them November to Feb off and start legging up mid-late Feb. It’s been a weird winter so far so I’m actually behind schedule.

Some things to consider - how old is your horse, is he shod? If you are doing trot sets with regularity on pavement you may want to invest in shoes as you will wear through hoof quite quickly. The drawback is trotting on road is not my favorite from a traction standpoint. It can be good for them to do some work on hard footing but know your horse: you don’t want to pile on too much road concussion at once.

My avenues for riding are limited. I’ve put more than 1500 miles on a horse trail riding in one season. As much as I want to agree walking is great for them — and it is — it is no substitute for actually trotting and cantering. I typically warm up at the walk on a bridle loop I made around the property; it has a lot of terrain and fallen logs and two loops of that is 15m.

In the spring I leg up with two minute trot sets, spaced one minute apart - do this three times a session. Always split the break interval by half of the intense interval; IE if you trot for 4m, walk for 2. If you want to get real technical, measure your horse’s heart rate — you want to start the beginning of the next intense interval just as they are more than halfway recovered. Keep in mind your terrain here — horses work much harder when they go uphill so factor that into your recovery sets.

The general rule of thumb is for interval training to not be back to back days - so hack or do other work on even days and IT on odd, or wherever works for you. You should give muscles time to recover and repair from the slight strain of pushing.

I add two minutes to each trot set every week until I’m up to ten minute repetitions (for a total of 30m trot). You won’t need more than that for anything below Prelim IMHO. This is a pretty conservative plan but it keeps my horses fit without risk to limb or soft tissue.

Trotting in ring in regular dressage work or jumps schools does enough for Novice, typically. (Age and breed may impact that some)

I fully believe that walking and hill work can do way more than trot sets. Wofford has adjusted his recommendations about longer trot work in favor of more walking, hills and slow and low canters, that builds the needed base for BN/Nov so you can then bring trot sets to the game as you’re prepping for Training and above.



Thank you everyone for the advice!

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