Easy Ways to Exercise a Horse: Step-By-Step Guide With Pictures

Ways You Can Exercise Your Horse

Do you live in a region where bad weather is keeping you from riding your horse? Or did you or your horse suffer an injury where riding isn’t an option, but your horse still needs to get exercise? Contrary to popular belief, there are multiple effective ways you can exercise your horse other than riding them.

So, what are some ways you can exercise your horse? You can exercise your horse by:

  • Riding 
  • Groundwork/Lunging
  • Hand-walking
  • Equine Massage and Stretching
  • Turning Your Horse Out in the Pasture
  • Pony Your Horse Off of Another Horse
  • Practice Driving Your Horse
  • Liberty Training
  • Lead Your Horse Through Water


It is unnatural and unhealthy for horses to go too long without exercise. Knowing alternatives to help your horse get a workout, no matter what the condition, will benefit them in both the long and short run. While exercise can help the horse burn off energy, it can also help keep the horse’s muscles toned, weight in check, and the body functioning properly.

Exercise Your Horse By Riding

When you think about exercising your horse, the first option that will probably come to mind is to actually ride them. When you ride your horse, you can monitor and control your horse’s gaits, riding time, and activity. You can do both light or intense exercise when riding your horse.

Whether you trail ride your horse to help them prepare for an endurance race or you practice running barrel patterns to get a faster time, any type of riding you do with your horse should be considered exercise for them.

Because of this, you should treat each ride as a workout for your horse. What this means is that the horse should be properly warmed up and cooled down to help avoid injury. The workout should gradually become more intense to help the horse build the proper muscle.

Think about the steps you take when you exercise and workout and apply it to your horse’s ride time. This will help to decrease injury and help your horse advance as they should.

Exercise Your Horse By Groundwork/Lunging

A great alternative exercise to riding is groundwork and lunging. Groundwork is any training you do with the horse while you’re on the ground; and yes, lunging is technically considered groundwork.

Groundwork is great for not only engaging your horse’s muscles but also engaging their minds. You can introduce new training techniques, teach your horse about personal space, and desensitize your horse, all while creating a deeper bond with your horse.

To learn some basic groundwork exercises you can do with your horse, check out our article 5 Best Groundwork Exercises For Your Horse. 

Lunging is working your horse around you in a circle. You can do this on a lunge line, which is a long rope that clips to your horse’s halter, or you can free lunge them around a round pen or arena. This is when there’s no rope attached to your horse and you’re driving them around you with body language from the center of the ring.

Lunging is a great way to burn your horse’s excess energy before a ride. It’s also a great tool to use for conditioning as you can control your horse’s gaits easily.

Exercise Your Horse By Hand-Walking

Hand-walking is a great way to get your horse some exercise if they’re dealing with an injury or need to have limited movement for some reason. When you hand-walk your horse, you simply lead them next to you. You can have the horse walk or lightly trot to provide exercise and work for the horse’s muscles.

If a horse is injured or just coming off of an injury, many horse owners will be apprehensive to turn a horse out in a pasture where the horse can gallop around and easily re-injure themselves. Hand-walking allows the horse to stretch its muscles and burn some energy all while being controlled and supervised as to no cause further injury.

Hand-walking your horse can be thought of as part of the treatment process for many equine injuries. To learn more about common horse injuries, check out our article Common Horse Injuries and How to Treat Them.

Exercise Your Horse by Equine Massage and Stretching

Believe it or not, when you get a massage, your muscles are actually experiencing an anaerobic exercise. Anaerobic exercises rely on energy stored in your muscles rather than oxygen. (healthline.com) In actuality, a massage is an intense workout for your muscles even when you don’t feel like you’re doing any work.

The same thing applies to a horse when they get an equine massage. Equine massages will help to work your horse’s muscles, increase muscle tone, and increase circulation. This is another great option of exercise for a horse that may need restricted movement due to injury.

I’m an equine massage therapist and I’ve worked on a lot of horses that are experiencing soreness and stiffness in their bodies. The massage helps to loosen up the muscles and get them working back to their potential.

Exercise Your Horse By Putting Them Out In the Pasture

A great natural way to allow your horse to get some exercise is by turning them out in the pasture. Horses were created to be constantly moving and walking as they graze. If you watch a horse graze, you’ll quickly find out that they don’t stay in the same spot for too long.

Turning your horse out in a pasture will let your horse exercise as natural as it is to them. The pasture gives your horse the space to move and graze as well as gallop around and let off some steam.

The consistent moving that comes from being turned out in a pasture helps your horse to circulate things through their body more easily than just standing in a stall. This is something to keep in mind when you’re considering your horse’s living options.

Exercise Your Horse by Ponying Them Off Another Horse

One training technique I’ve done with the last few horses I’ve trained is that before I got on them the first time, I would start ponying them around off of my other horse. Ponying is when you lead a horse next to you while you’re riding another horse.

Ponying allows you to control your horse’s gaits as you lead them next to you. I’ve heard that many endurance riders will pony their horses on the trails in order to get multiple horses in shape for the competition season.

Not only is this great for exercising multiple horses at once, but it’s a great way to introduce a young horse to new locations and harder workouts. You can put a saddle on a young horse and pony them around so they get used to the tack.

I’ll always pony my younger horses out on the trail before I take them out there by themselves. This gives them the chance to experience a new place with new obstacles, but it also gives me a chance to see how they’re going to react.

Exercise Your Horse by Teaching Them to Drive

No, not drive a car! Driving a horse is when you teach them to steer, stop, go, and react as if they were pulling a carriage behind them. If your horse actually knows how to pull a cart, then consider that a great workout for them! If not, teaching your horse to drive will be a great thing to add to your repetiteur.

You can teach your horse to drive by taking two lunge lines, attaching them to either side of the horse’s halter, like reins, and then walking behind your horse and steering them with the lunge lines. Just make sure you’re far enough away from your horse’s backside so you can’t get kicked!

From here, you can work your horse by having them move around under your control. This is a great training technique for young horses, as they can learn basic steering. It’s also a great way to keep your horse’s mind engaged as they learn something new.

Exercise Your Horse by Working On Liberty Training

One time, my horse suffered a back injury that kept him from being ridden for a few months. I wanted to keep up a consistent yet easy exercise routine, but we quickly got bored with hand-walking and lunging. I decided to start teaching him simple liberty training in order to keep things interesting without having to ride.

Liberty training is a kind of natural horse training where you train your horse without the confines of ropes. Rather, you communicate with your horse based on a solid bond and body language.

If you’re interested in learning about some of the first steps of liberty training, check out my article Getting Your Horse to Follow You: Easy Training Guide.

Exercise Your Horse by Leading Them Through Water

Have you ever tried to walk in knee-deep water? If so, then you can probably attest to how much more work it is on your muscles than walking normally. Many training facilities will have horses walk through water or swim in order to provide exercise and build muscle.

While most stables don’t have the facilities to house such exercise equipment, it is fairly easy to find places to work your horse in the water. Perhaps your stable has a creek nearby or a pond; take your horse over to the body of water and either lead them through or ride them through.

If your stable has a cross country field with a water feature, this is another great place to exercise your horse through the water. Jumping onto a bank or over a water jump will really work your horse’s muscles.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Often Should I Ride My Horse?

If you’re wanting to get your horse the proper amount of exercise, you may be asking yourself how often should you ride your horse. This largely depends on your overall goal for your horse.

If you plan on competing regularly at upper levels, intense training sessions will be the norm in order to keep the horse in shape for the level of competition. However, if you do rigorously train your horse, keep in mind that the more intense and more frequent the workout, the easier it is for the horse to get injured. For this reason, the horse should be given a rest at least once a week.

If you’re just looking to get your horse some exercise, just hopping on for a few minutes and riding around can be considered exercise for your horse. However, some horses may tend to get more frisky if they don’t get in a thorough workout.

At one time, my schedule only allowed me to ride my horse three times a week. These rides consisted of a good workout and I rode for little over an hour at a time. My horse was able to maintain muscle tone and stamina for our regular activities.

How often should you ride your horse really depends on what you’re trying to accomplish with the workouts. However, you should consider any time you get on a horse and ride a workout for them, even if you’re just walking. You’re encouraging them to move and their muscles are having to work to carry you.

You may find yourself stumped on how to exercise your horse on rainy days. Have no fear! Read our article Rainy Day Horse Activities: 15 Things to Do With Your Horse to learn some ways to entertain you and your horse.

P.S. Save this article to your “Horse Care” Pinterest board!


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Carmella Abel, Pro Horse Trainer

Hi! I’m Carmella

My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

Thank you for reading, and happy trails!

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