Suggestions on exercises to lighten a very heavy Fjord???

One of my boarders has a Fjord pony that she only comes out to see (maybe ride) about twice a month. The mare has become terribly obese despite my best attempts at starving her. :winkgrin:

So I decided to start riding her myself since I am currently between rides > my mare has been retired to broodmare duty due to an injury and I am waiting to break my new riding mare after her 2013 foal is weaned. However I may soon regret my decision to exercise the Fjord! I tried her tonight and she is so heavy and steers like a tank. :yes:

Now of course I could just hack her to get the pounds off - but I like a challenge. :slight_smile: So what can I do to get this Fjord off of her forehand before she kills my back? > really feeling the burn in my lower back tonight!!! :o

I have worked with other horses with downhill tendencies - but nothing like this mare.

Hi Ysabel,

We breed Fjords, so I feel qualified to offer you a few tips. First, get this mare into a grazing muzzle immediately. It’s important to stress to the owner that she may need to harden her heart - and whatever the general opinion of the rest of boarders of the barn, the mare needs to wear the muzzle every day without fail. Our Fjords get a maximum of four hours of grazing time daily - and spend the rest of turnout on dry lots. This is especially critical when the horse is not in heavy work. As a cold blooded breed, they are prone to heaviness and one of the delightful benefits of owning a Fjord is that they are extremely easy keepers.

PM me if you would like more detailed info about the nutritional needs for this breed- I’m happy to provide more lengthy advice.

As it pertains to the heaviness issue there are really two basic body types with Fjords - a lighter, more bendable pony build, and the heavier, short-necked draft build- more prominent in mares with this breed. The latter is always going to be a challenge regardless due to conformation so it’s key to accept that the mare’s way of going will never be that of a traditional riding horse. There are a few things that have worked for us and for other Fjord owners that I know to help ‘lighten the load’ and soften the mare. Some of these may not sound that ‘harmonious’, but Fjords have to be treated a bit differently at times.

  1. Correct bitting - simple snaffles seem to work best. If she’s been ridden by a heavy handed rider and has learned to lean (in addition to her conformational challenges), you might try a hackamore to get some relief. Also…don’t let the mare teach YOU to be strong…if you’re not riding lots of other horses, there is a tendency to adjust your strength to match hers (I’m very guilty of this!) - not a good habit to develop while your mare is out of work… :smiley:

  2. Exercises to release her shoulders (the ‘bendy’ leg yield has been invaluable for us and is part of our warm-up routine with several of our horses.)

  3. Transitions in head-to-wall angle leg yield during periods of time when she is rather ‘determined’ to avoid yielding to you. (Use the wall to your advantage.)

  4. Bend her, bend her, and bend her some more -while in the saddle and especially from the ground. Every time you halter her to move her from her stall, ask her to give in both directions several times to re-train those giant neck muscles. (You might find a rope halter to be more efficient with this exercise.) Teaching that huge neck to give to light pressure takes lots of repetitions and lots of time - certainly two rides per month is not going to do it.

The really outstanding thing about Fjords is their versatility…while relatively few are destined to be Dressage stars, they have extremely tractable temperaments and are very game for almost any job. Have fun with her - your boarder is lucky to have your help- and so is the mare. :slight_smile:

Good advice, especially about the grazing muzzle.

Grazing muzzle if she is in a field, hockey net if she is in box/paddock. The best thing with big/obese horses is to give them a little ‘‘all the time’’

SilverDracheFarm gave great advice.

What has worked well for my Fjord mare is lots of walk/trot/halt/back transitions to get her working off the seat as much as possible. I also have trot poles that we have had mixed success with. Sometimes she paces herself beautifully and sails through the poles, sometimes she knocks a pole or steps on one. The poles are just on the ground, once she is consistently confident I will raise them a little bit.

My mare likes a bit with a low port and prefers one that doesn’t rest on the bars of her mouth. I use this bit with good results:

My Fjord gets dry-lot turnout, a relatively small amount of hay, and a vitamin/mineral supplement with a teeny tiny handful of grain. Ridden 3-4 times a week she stays round on this diet. Previous owner explicitly said “No pasture!”

I’ve ridden two fjord mares. The first was a dream. She was very forward (real forward, not just fast, rushy) and could be very light in the hand, but you had to stay on top of her leaning tendencies. The second mare was different. She’s since gone on to a driving career she’s happier with. Both mares were very smart. The second had a firm belief that you should work as hard as her. She would just suck you in and before long you’d be wondering why you were hurting. The biggest piece of advice is just stay on top of the leaning. Keep the horse up and open and off the shoulders. Don’t accept anything less. Both mares I rode could rival my Lipi or the Lusitano I’m riding now for lightness, but boy did you have to work at it…every stride.

I think Fjords use the cute strategy. They’re cute so they get away with murder. Don’t accept it. Just like they do have better gaits than you think they do. You also have to mix it up. They like to do things. So go do things and work on light in the process. Trail obstacles, ground poles, small jumps…they generally are up for what ever you can think of. Both mares I rode were stars on the trail. Weird temperaments. Noises could startle or spook them, but never loose dogs, screaming children, riding lawnmowers that came out of no where, or weird scary shapes. One of them was never happy unless I’d let her go up and bite or paw at it.

Slow feeders and grazing muzzles are a must. It really wouldn’t do for her to end up with a laminitic episode.

Ooops…forgot. Both mares were ridden in a plain fulmer snaffle. This simple bit works amazingly well.

You need to create a baseline of fitness before you ask her to carry herself in an uphill fashion. I’d start with a forward, marching walk for 15-20 minutes per day. If you have some gradual hills to walk around on, even better. Build up until she is walking for at least 45 minutes in a forward, marching fashion.

In a month or 6 weeks, I think you’ll find that when you go back to some trot work, everything comes more easily. You should focus on transitions as soon as you start trotting. Trot ten strides, walk ten strides, etc.

LOL - so pretty much keep doing what I am doing and be more patient. :slight_smile: I think I will focus on her weight loss first and just hack out a lot. I have taken her swimming at the beach a couple of times this week and she seemed to like that. I ride her in a JP Fulmer (the one with the copper bean) - I was thinking of switching her to a loose ring so she would be less keen to lean on the contact, or try her with a waterford.

I have her on the pasture that the other horses have already grazed down to (what I thought was) nothing. But she is still not dropping the pounds without the exercise. It may turn out that my farm is not the best place for this mare because my horses are all on free choice hay all the time in the winters - and they are all kept together in the same pasture in the winter. Hard to limit only one horse’s hay intake when they are out with a herd. I could limit her hay at night - but I find they only eat more in the daytime then (and I worry about ulcers). I tried a grazing muzzle on a couple of my horses and they caused sores on their faces (probably because they are outside 24/7 in the summers). I guess one strategy will be to get her as thin as I can before winter sets in and she has access for all the hay her little pony mouth can handle.

She is definitely not built uphill - very downhill and long in the body. Thanks to a very well placed LS joint and strong hindquarter she doesn’t have half bad hock action, and she is not to terribly lazy. Just so heavy in the hands. I was trying to just work her more like I use to ride my western horses and just give her the reins and do lots of transitions, but she was not getting it and starting to stumble and lean so I picked the contact back up again. I am optimistic that the hacking/weight loss will help.

I should add that she is a saint of a horse. Big soft eyes and a sweet temperament. No spook at all. I was riding her down the side of the road one day and a group of motorcycles went by and she didn’t even look at them - not even when the horse that was with us took off past her and down the road. :wink: If I had been on my old mare I would have been eating asphalt - actually all it takes to set my mare off is a breeze. :slight_smile: So the hacking the Fjord is almost like a little vacation from my fire breathing dragon. :smiley: