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  • February 23, 2023 4 min read

    Cross-Training Benefits For Your Horse 

    Many equestrian athletes have long advocated for cross-training their horses: Ingrid Klimke is one such rider that regularly incorporates jumping, hill, and pole work into her horse's exercise regimes. The idea of cross-training is adding other exercise sessions that are not specific to your discipline. So, for example, if your discipline is dressage, you may want to include some jumping or pole work sessions. In this article, we will focus on the benefits of cross-training, as well as some exercises that will get you started. 

    The benefits 

    Cross-training has a wide range of benefits. First, it reduces the stress and strain that can be placed on the horse's body, particularly tendons and ligaments, during single discipline training. For example, if you ride your horse without varying your training regime, then your horse may experience repetitive strain injuries, which can include injuries to the bone and ligaments. This is because the horse's body is being worked in the same way each day, and so stress is placed on the same muscles, tendons, and ligaments. By varying the training regime, you are still working the horse's body. Still, different muscles are being activated and strengthened, so they can better support the body's structures, thereby reducing injuries. 

    The second benefit of cross-training is an improved cardiovascular system. Varying the exercise, you do each day will provide your horse (and you!) with a new stimulus to their cardiovascular system. For example, if you event, then you may want to incorporate gallop training, swimming, or hill work into your training, as this will help create a more well-rounded cardiovascular system and improve cardiovascular endurance. 

    Cross-training also provides mental stimulation for the horse. If you ride in the same way every day, the horse can become resistant and bored. So, by varying your training regime, you are giving the horse something else to think about, creating some interest for them. In the process, the difference in training should release endorphins. This will help keep the horse happier in their training and more willing to work with you. 

    Three exercises to get you started 

    Now that we have learned about the benefits of cross-training let's look at some simple exercises to get you started. Before embarking on any of these exercises, safety is first and foremost - make sure your horse can do what you are asking, and ensure that you are wearing the appropriate safety gear! 

    1. Poles 

    Poles are magical. They can be used in so many ways, and they help to build the topline of your horse. There are a variety of ways to use poles in your training regime, which include;

    • Walk, trot, and canter poles. Simply place poles on the ground at appropriate distances for your horse and walk, trot, or canter over them. Poles can be placed on a straight or curved line. Try to keep at 4 poles maximum to not fatigue a horse. 
    • Poles can be raised using pole risers, jumping stands, cavalletti, or even potties! Raising poles even 10cm off the ground is a tremendous gymnastic exercise for the horse. 
    • Alternately raised poles. Raising only one end of the pole and then having the horse go through them in a walk and trot will not only help the horse's coordination but will also increase flexibility and strength. 
    • Raising one end of the pole and having poles are different stride lengths. This exercise is best done at a walk, but raising only one end of the pole and setting the poles at different strides lengths, will have the horse thinking about foot placement and will help with body awareness. This is important, especially during periods of rehabilitation after injury. 
    • High poles. For the more experienced horse, set your pole (start with only one to begin with) about 30cm to 40cm off the ground and ask your horse to go over it: this increases hind leg flexibility and heightens body awareness.

    You may choose to use one or a variety of these pole configurations in your training program. Just remember, poles can be strenuous work and so it should be limited to about 20 minutes in duration. 

    2. Hill Work 

    Hill work is probably one of the best and easiest exercises to do. It gets your horse out of the arena, which on its own, will provide mental stimulation and is so good for building topline muscle and cardiovascular strength. All you need to do is find a hill! Once you have found a hill, make sure it is safe to trek on. You can choose whether to walk, trot or canter your horse up the hill (and also down). If the land area is big enough, you may decide to walk along the hill instead of straight up. Hill work is excellent for strengthening the horse's back, and it also provides cardiovascular strength. Just make sure you take into account the footing and steepness of the hill, it shouldn't be too steep, and the footing should be sound before embarking on this type of training session. 

    3. Change up your discipline 

    This is an easy one. All this means is that if you train in dressage, incorporate some jumping and vice versa. Alternating the disciplines will help your horse's balance, flexibility, and strength while preventing the overuse of certain muscle groups, thereby preventing injury. Getting your horse down to the beach is also a great day out, as swimming or even wading through the water will help to build and condition its body. 

    We hope this article inspires you to switch up your training regime. Not only will it benefit your horse, but we think you'll have fun in the process too! As always, we are here to help. If you need any new tack or equipment to help with your cross-training, please visit us in-store or online. We are here to help! 

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