Need conditioning advice after winter lay-off (both horse and rider)

This winter was my first back in a serious winter climate (Minnesota U.S.) after 8 years in Texas. Both my horse and I sustained ‘pasture’ injuries: he slipped on ice in his pasture and seriously pulled a groin muscle, causing a lameness and a swollen stifle. I slipped and fell twice on ice and wrecked my knee. (thread in forum on riders with health challenges).

But the giant snow-banks are melting fast, the sun is stronger, and it is time to get something going. I’ve been reading online about conditioning the senior horse - he’s 19, I’m about to turn 70 - and building Rube Goldberg gymnastics is not in the cards. We board at a strict and wonderful barn, have access to an indoor and outdoor and trails.

Today for the first time, as I was covering myself in shed horse hair, he looked like an old horse to me. I think I really need a conditioning program, but something simple. He’s a gaited Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse.

Any advice much appreciated! I’m retired and can ride 4-5 times a week, if I can mount and dismount without knee trauma. This is still an “if”…


I would start out at a marching walk on trails, work up to an hour, add short trot sets and go with what doesn’t retrigger injury in either of you. You could add in ground poles walk in hand then walk trot in saddle. Refresh backing up in hnd. Do lateral in hand, shoulder in on a circle them on straight. But really be mindful of stifle area. It’s homologous to the human knee so you are both going through same rehab!

If you want to lift his back you need to work on abs so things that work that like lateral and belly lifts. Also double check his nutrition and make sure he’s getting all his vitamins and minerals.


What a sweet and handsome fella! And wowzers that’s a lot of hair!

I agree that starting with good walking rides sounds sensible.

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I slipped on ice in January and broke my ankle. 8 weeks non weight bearing has me out of shape for the first time in my life. I am now walking and once our ground is firm I will get back at it.

I have a 17 year old mare and a 3 year old gelding who have done nothing for basically 3 months now but eat.

I am going to start them both the same. Lunging under saddle at the walk/ trot and add riding once I am certain neither one will have any desire to buck.

We are going to take it slow and easy because I have no idea what I will be like or what my ankle will do once in a stirrup. Lots of walking and bursts of trotting and build from there.

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I broke my foot a few years back, 6 weeks nonweight bearing. I found for myself walking was really good rehab. I stuck the horse in full board so I could go mall walk or in the park. I do remember it was a issue knowing how to step forward. My first day in the mall I froze stepping onto the down escalator and then decided on the elevator. But the next time I was there I was fine.

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Jec Ballou has some great information/exercises for rehab and conditioning. She uses both isometric as well as dynamic exercises, and also some simple bodywork (often using Masterson Method techniques).

Strengthening Stifles

She does tend to use ground poles, but has plenty of exercises that don’t or that utilize just 1 or 2 poles. You don’t have to use huge jump poles - just get a few 8’ landscape poles. And you don’t necessarily need to use them in the arena - you can do the simple exercises just about anywhere. Hopefully your barn would be OK with that if you can tuck them away somewhere when not using.

When spring rolls around and the snow is gone I keep a landscape pole in the middle of the paddock (the benefit of having my own place) and will do the single pole exercises each night while doing chores.

The first spring I used the pole (and a few other isometric exercises) I noticed a huge improvement in how my horse carries herself and gaits (she’s a 19 year old TWH that tends to be pacey) when I started riding. So it doesn’t have to be a big movement or spend a lot of time to see a benefit. :smiley:

For you, have you ever done Pilates? Just a simple routine that focuses on mobility and some strength, something along these lines: Pilates for Equestrians

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I’ve been following this program this spring & quite like it, not specifically for senior horses but definitely for horses out of shape:

Its good because I get over-zealous in my conditioning, logically I know the walk is a magical rehab gait but in practice it feels like nothing is happening. So I found the program a good reminder that trot work doesn’t even need to be introduced until 4 weeks in.

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I have been carefully Spring re-conditioning my 25(ish) yo who has a chronic suspensory injury. We are being conservative and respectful of his geriatric-ness and the unpredictability of how that right hind is feeling on any given day. While carefully walking up a gentle hill yesterday, Himself chose to spook wildly at the sight of thestone wall that he has seen every day of his life for the past three years. He executed a beautiful, powerful, smooth leap about three feet high and 15 feet to the right, and then proceeded to piaffe with gorgeous suspension, doing his best impression of a fire-breathing dragon on uppers, for the rest of the ride, while mom muttered things about long slow work vs. horses with Napolean complexes (fella is short, dark, and handsome).


Oh Noble, you silly beast! Feronia reacted about the same way when we got lost at Great Brook and ended up right by where the Old North Bridge hunt keeps their hounds. Airborne, snorting, prancing for the next 30 minutes, etc. Good times.

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