How Often Should I Ride My Horse? What You Need to Know

How Often Should I Ride My Horse?

If you’re a new horse owner, you may be wondering how often you need to ride your horse. You don’t necessarily have to ride horses if you own them; I know of many people who simply do rescues or breeding and rarely get on the horses they own. However, if you do plan on riding your horse or competing regularly, there is a certain level of fitness and stamina that the horse must maintain under saddle.

So, how often should you ride your horse? How often you ride your horse will depend on your goals. If you want to ride in upper-level competitions, it’s not uncommon for horses to get an intense training session 6 days a week. However, if you just want to keep your horse in a healthy physical condition, riding your horse three times a week for at least 20 minutes at a time can help maintain a good level of health.

Every horseback rider has different riding goals that they want to accomplish with their horse. Before attempting to accomplish your goals, it’s important to understand why exercise is necessary for your horse in the first place. It’s also important to know how to properly condition your horse in order to see the results you want.

Horse Riding Frequency: Why It’s Important

As horse owners, exercising your horse, whether riding or otherwise, is one of the responsibilities that come with owning such animals. In the wild, horses were created to be constantly moving as they graze and traveling miles a day to find food and water. This constant movement allowed for increased circulation throughout their bodies and natural muscle conditioning.

Now domesticated, horses don’t get nearly the exercise that their ancestors would have gotten. Instead of having the ability to move freely, the majority of modern-day horses stand in a stall or in a small pasture all day. Their food and water is placed in one spot so that the horse may stand eating for hours at a time.

In this day and age, riding and exercising your horse is important to help maintain your horse’s true function. Exercise will help the horse’s body circulate properly. It will help to keep your horse’s muscles healthy so that there is a lower risk for a muscular injury. Riding your horse can also help your horse maintain a healthy weight.

How to Properly Condition Your Horse for Riding

Properly conditioning your horse is important when it comes to achieving your riding goals. Horses, just like humans, must train and gradually increase their exercise in order to build endurance and stamina. If you have a horse that you plan on bringing into work, it’s important to condition them properly in order to avoid injury.

Gradually Increase the Intensity of Your Horse’s Workout

Have you ever randomly decided that you were going to start exercising, so in the thrill of the moment, you went and ran a mile? The next day you wake up and you can barely move because you’re so sore. Well, the same thing can happen to a horse is they’re not used to being worked and they’re suddenly thrown into work.

The key to correctly conditioning your horse is the word “gradual.” By gradually increasing the horse’s workload one step at a time, you’re allowing the horse to build proper muscles and to develop endurance and stamina. Horses that aren’t conditioned correctly can get injured much more easily due to sensitive and contracted muscles.

To condition your horse, gradually start to increase the length and intensity of your ride. With any green or out-of-shape horse, I’ll only ride them for a half an hour at a time, knowing that they aren’t in shape to do much more. With horses that I’ve had under saddle a while, I may ride them for an hour and a half at a time on the trails, cantering and trotting long distances.

Do Extended Periods of Trotting and Cantering

A great way to help your horse get in shape is by doing extended periods of trotting or cantering. With horses that are just being brought into work, start by trotting or cantering for a few minutes at a time. As the horse starts to get in shape, gradually increase it to five minutes, then ten minutes, then fifteen.

long trotting or cantering can act as a cardio exercise for your horse. It gets their blood pumping and their heart rate up. This is key to increase stamina and endurance in your horse. I’ve talked to many endurance riders about how they condition their horses, and they all say that long trotting is the best way to go.

Monitor the Time it Takes Your Horse to Bounce Back

In order to test how your horse is physically, monitor the time it takes your horse to bounce back from a long trot or canter. If the horse is breathing heavily for a while after the exercise, then the horse may need to be brought back down to a lower level of conditioning.

How fast it takes for a horse’s heart rate and breathing to return to normal can determine how in shape your horse is. if they can return to normalcy fairly quickly, then your horse is in good physical condition and can advance to the next conditioning level. If not, then it may be wise to start back at the basics with your horse in order to avoid pushing your horse too hard.

Allow for Your Horse to Rest and Recover

Just like humans, horses need to rest and recover after exercise. Especially if you’re just bringing a horse into work, it’s important to give them time to rest so that their muscles can adjust and recover from all the stress they’ve been put under.

Not only do horses who just came into work need to rest, but high-level performance horses do as well. These performance horses must maintain an intense level of fitness and physicality in order to compete; If not allowed to rest, their bodies can get overworked and be injured easily.

No matter the horse, always allow for rest time in your routine. This will give your horse a chance to just be a horse and allow their body to recoup for a while.

Now that we’ve talked about conditioning your horse, let’s talk about what is required in order to maintain certain levels of riding for your horse:

Riding Frequency: Casual Riding

Casual horseback riding can refer to someone who simply likes to get on their horse and have some fun! While this activity may not seem physically challenging, there is still a level of fitness the horse has to have in order to carry you as the rider and have some fun!

If you are someone who likes to casually ride your horse, riding at least twice a week for 20-30 minutes at a time can help your horse be at the correct level of fitness. This should include some extended periods of trotting and cantering in order to get the horse’s heart rate up.

This amount of riding can also benefit your horse by causing circulation through their body and helping them maintain a basic level of muscle tone.

Riding Frequency: Moderate Riding

For those who regularly compete in lower-level shows, events, or more challenging trail rides, conditioning your horse for moderate riding can guarantee that the horse will be able to make it through competition day.

For a horse and rider who require a moderate level of fitness, The horse should be ridden four days a week. At least two of the days should include a more intense workout while the other days could result in a slightly easier and less strenuous ride.

This is the riding routine I followed when I foxhunted every weekend. Many of the fox hunts could last for a few hours at a time and we’d be required to trot, canter, and even gallop over extended distances. Riding at this frequency will help your horse to develop more prominent muscles and quicker recovery time.

Riding Frequency: Intense/Performance Level Riding

For those horses and riders who are competing in upper-level competitions where a certain level of training and physicality must be maintained, riding frequency and intensity will increase drastically.

For a horse and rider who are riding at the performance level, the horse will usually require six days of work a week with one day of rest. The majority of training sessions will be dedicated to perfecting a certain technical skill that requires top-notch physical ability from the horse. 

Horses riding at this level will have noticeable and prominent muscle development that wouldn’t be seen in horses at lower levels. Their health will be monitored closely to ensure that they can handle the level at which they compete.

I hope this article will help you prepare your horse for the level of riding you want to do! One riding discipline where the horse will need to be conditioned in order to compete in eventing. If you want to learn more about eventing, check out our article What Is Eventing? Everything You Need to Know.


P.S. Save this article to your “Horseback Riding” 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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